Monday, March 31, 2014

Guinea battles to contain Ebola as Senegal closes its border

People walk in front of the Ignace Deen hospital in Conakry on March 27, 2014
Conakry (AFP) - Guinea is racing to contain a deadly Ebola epidemic spreading from its southern forests to the capital Conakry, as neighbouring Senegal closes its border.
The European Union pledged 500,000 euros ($690,000) to fight the contagion, while the Senegalese interior ministry said border crossings to Guinea would be closed "until further notice".
The order affects crossings at Kolda and Kedougou in the south of Senegal which are heavily used by traders, particularly during a weekly market attended by thousands from neighbouring countries.
Eight cases of Ebola have been confirmed in Conakry, the Guinean health ministry said late Friday, including one fatality.
Across the country, "the total number of suspected cases recorded from January to 28 March 2014 is 111 cases of haemorrhagic fever including 70 deaths ... or a fatality rate of 63 percent," the ministry said in a statement.
Samples taken from 45 of the suspect cases included 19 which tested positive for Ebola.

Most of the cases were recorded in southern Guinea, but the disease has spread to the capital since Wednesday.
Those infected have been put in isolation to prevent the virus from spreading, while aid organisations have sent dozens of workers to help the poor west African country combat the outbreak of haemorrhagic fever.
- 'Deeply concerned' -
The EU's aid offer came after a plea for assistance from the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS). The regional bloc said it was "deeply concerned" about the epidemic which presented a "serious threat to the region".
The tropical virus -- described in some health publications as a "molecular shark" -- leads to haemorrhagic fever, causing muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in severe cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.
No treatment or vaccine is available, and the Zaire strain detected in Guinea -- first observed 38 years ago in what is today called the Democratic Republic of Congo -- has a 90 percent death rate.
Sakoba Keita, who heads the Guinean health ministry's prevention division said it remains unclear how Ebola had arrived in Guinea.
Tests on the other cases of haemorrhagic fever are still ongoing to determine their origin.
"We hope to get (the results) quickly as these cases should be treated like Ebola as they are also deadly," he said.
Guinea is one of the world's poorest nations despite vast untapped mineral wealth, with a stagnating economy, youth unemployment at 60 percent and a rank of 178th out of 187 countries on the UN's Human Development Index.
The World Health Organisation said Liberia had reported eight suspected cases of Ebola fever, including six deaths, while Sierra Leone had reported six suspected cases, five of them fatal.
Ebola can be transmitted to humans from wild animals, and between humans through direct contact with another's blood, faeces or sweat, as well as sexual contact or the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.
MSF said the spread of the disease was being exacerbated by people travelling to funerals in which mourners touch the bodies of the dead.
Guinea has banned the consumption of bat soup, a popular delicacy in the country, as the fruit bat is believed to be the host species.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

One in 25 patients has an infection acquired during hospital stay, CDC says

One in 25 patients in U.S. hospitals has an infection acquired as part of his or her care despite modest progress in controlling those pathogens inside medical facilities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday in its most comprehensive look at a stubborn and lethal health-care problem.
The CDC’s 2011 survey of 183 hospitals showed that an estimated 648,000 patients nationwide suffered 721,000 infections, and 75,000 of them died — though it is impossible to tell from the data how many deaths were directly attributable to the acquired infection, said Michael Bell, deputy director of CDC’s division of health care quality promotion. Nevertheless, “today and every day, more than 200 Americans with healthcare-associated infections will die during their hospital stay,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a news release.

HANDOUT ILLUSTRATION:   Medical illustration of Clostridium difficile.   (Courtesy of CDC)
Clostridium difficile. (Courtesy of CDC)
The most common infections are pneumonia (22 percent), surgical site infections (22 percent), gastrointestinal infections (17 percent), urinary tract infections (13 percent), and bloodstream infections (10 percent), the agency reported in the study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
When coupled with the growing risks posed by of antibiotic resistant bacteria, the prevalence of hospital-acquired infections remains a serious problem for care-givers, one that the CDC is continuing to battle on a state-by-state and even hospital-by-hospital basis, Bell said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“Sooner or later everyone is likely to become a patient somewhere,” he said. “We go to the hospital hoping to become better, and mostly we do, but not always.”
Atop the list of pathogens acquired in hospitals is the bacterium clostridium difficile (commonly know as c. diff), which can cause gastroenterological illnesses so severe that removal of a patient’s colon is sometimes required, Bell said. It was responsible for 12.1 percent of the infections turned up by the survey. Also common was methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a staph infection that has become resistant to common antibiotics.
Such infections — rather than ones associated with devices such as central catheters, urinary catheters and ventilators, comprised the majority of the health-care-related infections revealed by the survey. Indeed, Bell said, the rate of infections from “central lines” that are placed into patients’ major blood vessels has been cut nearly in half since 2008, and the infection rate after surgery has declined by 20 percent in the same time.
But urinary tract infections, which are not as dangerous, remain persistent, he said.
About 34 million people were admitted to U.S. acute care hospitals in 2012, according to the study, which did not look at other in-patient settings such as nursing homes. The infection rate declined when compared with the results tallied by the CDC in 2007, but those were based on historical data rather than a survey, Bell said.
At the news conference, Victoria Nahum, executive director of the Safe Care Campaign, urged hospital patients to insist on “compulsive hand hygiene” and other best practices by their care-givers, including physicians, and visitors. That may mean patients will have to overcome the fear of questioning doctors about their hygiene while hospitalized, or have a relative or friend do it for them, she and Bell said.
Nahum’s son, Joshua, died in 2006 at age 27 of a health-care-related infection just two months after two other members of her family suffered complications from similar infections.
President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget includes money to battle antibiotic resistance. Bell said the continuing effort will require hospitals to remain judicious about the use of antibiotics in order to gradually lessen resistance to them, in the hope that some will become effective again. He said the problem of widespread resistance also is prompting new approaches to controlling bacteria.
“I remain extremely cautious regarding the growing threat of antibiotic resistance,” Nahum said.
p0326-hospital-patients-page-001 (2)

Shark gives Florida student two-hour ride, stars in YouTube video


By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A hammerhead shark dragged a college student in his kayak up the Atlantic coast for a two-hour "South Florida sleigh ride" that the kayaker taped with a head-mounted camera and posted on YouTube.
Adam Fisk, 22, posted a five-minute clip of his adventure titled "Lone Man Gets Towed for Miles in Kayak by 11 Foot Hammerhead Shark."
At one point, Fisk dunked the camera into the water and recorded the shark swimming ahead of the kayak.
A student at Florida Atlantic University, Fisk set out in a kayak on Sunday with several poles to go fishing before the shark took his bait near Boynton Beach, Florida.
"I threw my bait out and went to reel my other one in so I wouldnt get tangled, and I just had time to pick up the rod before the other one already got picked up by that hammer," Fisk wrote on the YouTube site. (
"It must have been sitting right under me and I had no idea."
Fisk is a member of Team Rebel Fishing, a group of extreme anglers, according to its website. The group estimated Fisk was dragged by the shark for 12 miles.
Fisk told Reuters that the ride started out smoothly but turned frightening when the shark twice reversed course.
"It would do a 180-degree turn and come straight back at me and that rally scared me because I couldn't see it and I didn't know if it was coming to bite me," he said.
Fisk said he turned his kayak around until the line got taut and the shark began pulling again. He said the shark took him out to sea and around in circles, ending at Lake Worth, Florida.
"Hooked a hammerhead in 50ft of water and got drug out to 250ft," Fisk posted in his Facebook account of the ride under the headline, "I took a South Florida sleigh ride today and I aint talkin Santa Claus."
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Ken Wills)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Guinea Bans Bat Eating to Curb Ebola Spread, Warns on Rats

Guinea has forbidden the sale and consumption of bats and warned against eating rats and monkeys as the country combats a spread of Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever with a mortality rate of as much as 90 percent.
“We discovered the vector agent of the Ebola virus is the bat,” said Remy Lamah, the country’s health minister, in an interview from the town of N’zerekore today. “We sent messages everywhere to announce the ban. People must even avoid consumption of rats and monkeys. They are very dangerous animals.”
In the west African nation, the Toma, Kissi and Guerze ethnic groups eat bats with the first two communities living in an area around the Ebola-stricken towns of Macenta, Gueckedou and Kissidougou. So far at least 63 people are suspected to have died in Guinea’s first recorded outbreak of the disease.
“The Kissi community eats bats and the epidemic is making a lot of devastation," Moriba Traore, an inhabitant of Gueckedou, said by telephone. “Families in villages lost eight or ten members and people are dying. We are afraid.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Ougna Camara in Conakry at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at Gordon Bell

Terror grips Ebola-hit west Africa

A man desinfects protection material at a warehouse of the Swiss branch of NGO Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) on March 25, 2014 in Conakry, set to be used in areas plagued by Ebola haemorrhagic fever
Conakry (AFP) - Guinea battled Wednesday to contain an Ebola epidemic threatening neighbouring countries as fear and confusion gripped communities under siege from one of the deadliest viruses known to mankind.
Aid organisations have sent dozens of workers to help one of the world's poorest countries combat a haemorrhagic fever outbreak which has killed at least 63 people, many of whom have been confirmed as infected by Ebola.
"On Monday, two more deaths were reported in our area. People are really frightened," Joseph Gbaka Sandounou, a unit manager for Plan International in Guinea's south, was quoted as saying in a statement.
"They have seen people die in a matter of just two or three days. They are constantly worried who is going to be the next fatality."
The British-based charity said people of Guinea's southern forests -- the epicentre of the outbreak which began in February -- had been terrified by seeing neighbours bleeding severely as they were struck down by the virus.
"People have never experienced anything like this before. Rumours are rife among communities who are trying to come up with their own explanations," said Sandounou.
Ebola had never spread among humans in west Africa before February but five deaths being investigated in Liberia, one in Sierra Leone and others still being tested could bring the toll from the epidemic to above 70.
"We are not at the end of this epidemic, we continue every day to record a number of new cases or fatalities," said Guinea's chief disease prevention officer Sakoba Keita, confirming the two new deaths.
"But the daily incidence is lessening. We believe the peak has passed."
The tropical virus -- described in some health publications as a "molecular shark" -- causes severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea, the shutdown of organs and unstoppable bleeding in severe cases.
Scientists have examined 45 samples from victims of the epidemic, with 19 testing positive for Ebola, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement.
Other highly-contagious tropical bugs, including Marburg and Lassa, can lead to similar symptoms but the authorities have not announced which pathogens were been picked up in samples where Ebola was not detected.
- Danger of panic spreading -
Sierra Leone warned on Tuesday that a 14-year-old buried recently may have been infected in Guinea, while the deaths of four women and a boy in Liberia are being tested for the killer virus.
Guinea has banned inhabitants of the south from eating bats, a common feature of the local diet, as the creatures are considered to be the natural host of the virus.
Transmission of Ebola to humans can come from wild animals, direct contact with another human's blood, faeces or sweat, as well as sexual contact or the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.
Doctors Without Borders, which is known by its French initials "MSF", said the spread of the disease was being exacerbated by people travelling to funerals in which mourners touch the dead person's body.
No treatment or vaccine is available, and the Zaire strain of Ebola detected in Guinea -- first observed in the Democratic Republic of Congo 38 years ago -- has a 90 percent death rate.
Guinea is among the planet's poorest nations despite vast untapped mineral wealth, with a stagnating economy, youth unemployment at 60 percent and a rank of 178th out of 187 countries on the UN's Human Development Index.
Plan, MSF and other aid organisations are providing treatment and sanitation facilities and relaying public health information, especially to schools, via the media and text messages.
"We are doing everything we can to treat the patients with dignity, whilst at the same time protecting the community and family from possible contamination," said MSF emergency coordinator Marie-Christine Ferir.
"We want to avoid the danger of the population panicking and it is important to transmit all the information necessary to understand the disease and how people can protect themselves."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sick Again? Why Some Colds Won't Go Away

Some people get back-to-back colds, infected by a new virus

March 24, 2014 7:02 p.m. ET
Rhinoviruses are the main cause of the common cold. Science Picture Co./Corbis
About a month ago Sharon Gilbert was hit with a runny nose, sore throat and a cough. The whole snotty works.
A few weeks later she thought she had recovered. Then her husband Derek got sick, and bam. "Suddenly I started getting all the symptoms [again] and it was worse," said Ms. Gilbert, a 61-year-old writer in Charleston, Ill.
In the winter that seems to have no end in many parts of the country, people like Ms. Gilbert have been plagued with the seemingly everlasting cold.
That's partly because the common cold can last longer than many people think—up to two weeks for the principal symptoms and perhaps weeks more for a cough that lingers even after the virus has been cleared away. There's also the possibility of secondary infections such as bacterial sinusitis.
And some patients might get back-to-back colds, doctors say. It isn't likely people will be reinfected with the same virus because the body builds some immunity to it. But people can pick up another of the more than 200 known viruses that can cause the common cold, some of which are worse than others.

The Cold Facts

  • Adults on average get two to five colds a year, mostly between September and May. Young children can get as many as seven to 10 colds.
  • More than 200 different viruses cause colds, and scientists continue to discover new ones.
  • Colds are most contagious about two days before symptoms start and in the early stages of illness.
  • The average cold lasts two to 14 days. Coughs can linger up to six weeks.
  • Exercise, reducing stress, getting good sleep and hand hygiene can help prevent getting a cold.
Sources: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Common Cold Centre (Cardiff University); CDC.
"When you hear people who have the cold that 'won't go away,' those are typically back-to-back infections of which we see a lot of in the cold weather when people are cohorting together," said Darilyn Moyer, a physician at Temple University Hospital and chairwoman-elect of the American College of Physicians Board of Governors.
Influenza may get all the attention, but the common cold is the leading cause of doctor visits, according to the National Institutes of Health. Each year, people in the U.S. get about one billion colds, and 22 million school days are lost to the stubborn viruses.
Experts say adults on average get two to five colds a year; school children can get as many as seven to 10. The elderly tend to get infected less because they've built up immunity to many viruses. And adults who live or work with young children come down with more colds.
Don't I know it. For more than a month now my family seems to be playing a game of pass-the-nasty-cold. My husband had a cold and lingering cough for weeks, which we suspect he gave to our infant. Finally I succumbed.
We blamed the purveyor of all germs, our kindergartner. Just as we were all recovering, the infant started day care and brought home a virus and we're all on round two of apparently a different cold.
Experts say it's possible that the carrier of germs—in this case our kindergartner—can infect others without having symptoms himself.
"At any given moment if we were to swab you…we'd probably come up with five different rhinoviruses sitting in your nose but you're not sick," said Ann Palmenberg, a researcher at the Institute of Molecular Virology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rhinovirus is the most common viral cause of the common cold, accounting for 30% to 50% of adult colds, and there are more than 150 strains of it.
To get infected, the so-called ICAM receptors, which the rhinovirus attaches to in order to enter the nasal cells, need to be open, Dr. Palmenberg said.
"Rhinos are out there all the time, it's just a question of when you are susceptible," she said. Factors such as stress, lack of sleep and people's overall health can make them more likely to get infected. More than 150 strains or genotypes of the rhinovirus have been identified and researchers believe there are probably many more.
Rhinovirus replicates best in the relatively lower body temperatures of the upper respiratory area, such as the nasal passages, sinuses and throat.
Other viruses, such as the less-common adenovirus, can replicate and attach to receptors in the upper and lower respiratory tracts, causing a more serious illness.
Other viruses—including the coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus and enterovirus—have also been identified as causing cold symptoms. "The most confounding thing of all is that we still haven't identified the cause of 20% to 30% of adult common colds," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Sometimes a cold that never seems to end could be a sign of something more serious. A cold may result in a sinus infection, bronchitis or pneumonia. And cold symptoms are at times confused with seasonal allergies.
A usually dry cough that lingers after a cold is typically due to bronchial hyperreactivity or tracheal inflammation, doctors say. "After you go through an infection in your respiratory system, you can almost have a transient form of asthma where your bronchial tubes are very highly reactive and very irritated and inflamed," said Dr. Moyer, of Temple University Hospital.
A review of various studies, published last year in the journal Annals of Family Medicine, found that coughs on average last about 18 days. The report also said a survey of nearly 500 people found that most participants expected a cough should disappear in about a week and believed antibiotics from their doctor would help them. (A big no-no!)
Some experts believe having one cold virus and a weakened immune system could make catching another virus easier. Because the epithelial linings in the nose are weakened when you have a cold, the broken down mucus-membrane barrier may be more prone to picking up another virus.
But others suggest that proteins such as interferons, which are secreted during a cold to help fight the virus, may also boost resistance to getting infected by a second virus, according to Dr. Fauci, of the NIH.
What can a person do to prevent or shorten a cold? Nearly everyone knows someone who swears by taking echinacea or zinc or downing packs of vitamin C.
But doctors say the evidence isn't conclusive that any of these remedies helps. Some research indicates that exercise and meditation could help prevent colds.
The good news is spring is here, at least officially, so the worst of the winter cold season should be over. Come summer, however, a new batch of viruses emerge and you might find yourself saying hello to the pesky summer cold.

Canadian man in hospital with Ebola-like virus

An electron microscope image of the Ebola virus  
The Ebola virus, shown in an image released by US health officials, is just one of the possible diagnoses
A man is in hospital in Canada with symptoms of a haemorrhagic fever resembling the Ebola virus, a health official has said.
The man had recently returned from Liberia in the west African region, currently suffering a deadly outbreak of an unidentified haemorrhagic fever.
He is in isolation in critical condition in Saskatoon, the largest city in Saskatchewan province.
A provincial medical official said there was no risk to the public.
Dr Denise Werker, the province's deputy chief medical officer, declined to say how long the man had been in Africa but said he only fell ill after returning to Canada.
She said that was in line with the profile of common deadly haemorrhagic fever viruses Lassa fever and Ebola, which have an incubation period of up to 21 days.
She said the people most at risk were healthcare workers who do not protect themselves from contact with the patient's bodily secretions.
"There is no risk to the general public," she said. "We recognise that there is going to be a fair amount of concern and that is why we wanted to go public with this as soon as possible."
A virus resembling Ebola has struck in Guinea, with cases also reported in Liberia.
As many as 61 people have died of the disease in the remote forests of southern Guinea.
But health officials in the Guinean capital, Conakry, have said the virus is not Ebola.
In Saskatchewan, Dr Werker said the man's diagnosis had not yet been confirmed and that a laboratory in Winnipeg was testing a biological specimen from the man.
There is no drug treatment for Ebola, although Lassa can be treated with the drug Ribavirin.

African health workers battle Ebola; suspected Canada case

An electron micrograph image of an Ebola virus virion obtained March 24, 2014 from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia
Conakry (AFP) - Health officials in Guinea battled to contain west Africa's first outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus as neighbouring Liberia reported its first suspected victims and a traveller returning to Canada was hospitalised with suspicious symptoms.
At least 59 people are known to have died in Guinea's southern forests and there are six suspected cases in Liberia which, if confirmed, would mark the first spread of the highly contagious pathogen into another country.
And there are fears the virus may have crossed continents, with a man returning to Canada from Liberia seriously ill in hospital after experiencing symptoms consistent with the virus, health officials said.
"As of this morning six cases have been reported of which five have already died -- four female adults and one male child. One of the suspected cases, a female child, is under treatment," Liberian Health Minister Walter Gwenigale said in a statement.
"The team is already investigating the situation, tracing contacts, collecting blood samples and sensitising local health authorities on the disease," he added.
Gwenigale did not specify the victims' nationalities, but Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said they were Liberian residents who had attended funerals in the Ebola-hit area of Guinea, which has strong "family ties" with northern Liberia.
"People come to attend funerals on one side and unfortunately they unwittingly get infected and then return home," Brussels-based MSF emergency coordinator Marie-Christine Ferir told AFP.
The local health ministry in Canada's Saskatchewan province said a man had been placed in solitary confinement, with his family in quarantine, pending expected results on Tuesday of tests.
"All we know at this point is that we have a person who is critically ill who travelled from a country where these diseases occur," Denise Werker, joint director of health in Saskatchewan, in western Canada, said.
To date, no treatment or vaccine is available for the Ebola pathogen, which kills between 25 and 90 percent of those who fall sick, depending on the strain of the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Officials from the Guinean health ministry and the WHO met Sunday in Conakry for urgent talks on the crisis.
"The total suspect cases recorded to date amount to 86 cases with 59 deaths," the health ministry said in a statement, indicating that most cases reported since the start of the outbreak in early February were in Guinea's south.
The first analyses of samples by the Pasteur Institute in the French city of Lyon showed that cases in southern Guinea were due to the Ebola virus.
Three cases of haemorrhagic fever, two fatal, have also been reported in Conakry, but tests for Ebola proved negative.
Transmission to humans can come from wild animals, or from direct contact from another human's blood, faeces or sweat, or by sexual contact and the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.
- 'Molecular shark' -
The tropical virus -- described in some health publications as a "molecular shark" -- can fell its victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhoea -- in some cases shutting down organs and causing unstoppable bleeding.
It was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1976. The central African country has suffered eight outbreaks.
The most recent epidemic, also in the DRC, infected 62 people and left 34 dead between May and November 2012, according to the country's health ministry.
Although there have also been outbreaks among humans in Uganda, the Republic of Congo and Gabon, the disease had never before been detected in people in west Africa.
The aid organisation Plan International warned that the epidemic risked spreading to neighbouring countries because of the free movement of people across borders.
Sierra Leonean aid organisation the Health For All Coalition warned of a high risk of transmission in border areas.
"People, goods and animals -- such as sheep, goats and cows used in Sierra Leone -- come from Guinea and it is these districts that they are brought into. And in these areas, people hunt for birds, monkeys and baboons for food."
Adjoining Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast have reactivated their epidemiological surveillance systems.
The head of Ivory Coast's National Public Hygiene Institute, Simplice Dagnan, said officials were worried the virus could "easily" arrive there, warning: "Animals don't recognise borders."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Guinea haemorrhagic fever may have crossed into Sierra Leone

FREETOWN (Reuters) - An outbreak of haemorrhagic fever that has killed 29 people in Guinea may have spread across the border into neighbouring Sierra Leone, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) document and a senior Sierra Leone health official.
Guinean health officials have registered 49 cases of infection in three southeastern towns and the capital Conakry since the outbreak was first reported on February 9.
While the exact type of the fever, which is characterised by bleeding, has yet to be identified, a senior official in Guinea said on Friday preliminary tests had narrowed down the possibilities to Ebola or Marburg Haemorrhagic Fever.
WHO officials, however, suspect Lassa Fever may be behind the outbreak, cases of which have now also been reported in a border region in Sierra Leone, according to minutes of a March 18 teleconference seen by Reuters.
Sierra Leone's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brima Kargbo said authorities were investigating the case of a 14-year-old boy who died in the town of Buedu in the eastern Kailahun District.
The boy had travelled to Guinea to attend the funeral of one of the outbreak's earlier victims.
Kargbo said a medical team had been sent to Buedu to test those who came into contact with the boy before his death.
International medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced on Saturday it was reinforcing its team in Guinea. It is also flying in 33 tonnes of medicines and equipment and is setting up isolation units in three towns.
"These structures are essential to prevent the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious," Dr. Esther Sterk, MSF's Tropical Medicine Adviser, said in a statement. "Specialised staff are providing care to patients showing signs of infection"
Ebola and Marburg are lethal diseases caused by similar viruses that are among the most virulent pathogens known to infect humans, the WHO says on its website.
Humans contract Lassa Fever, which is endemic in West Africa, from contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent faeces. The disease can then be transmitted from person to person.

Ebola Outbreak In Guinea: Death Toll Rising

Ebola Outbreak In Guinea: Death Toll Rising
An Ebola outbreak in Guinea has led to the deaths of 59 people and is continuing to spread throughout Africa. The outbreak is so bad that Doctors Without Border has already flown in doctors and medial supplies to help treat the sick and contain the virus. Quarentine areas have been created where those infected with the virus can be treated without the risk of infecting others and spreading the dangerous and deadly disease.
Ebola is a form of hemoragic fever. Symptoms of the virus appear flu-like at first, but quickly worsen to include severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Headache, sore throat and rashes are also common. If left untreated, those infected with an Ebola virus can fall into a coma and die.
One of the most notable and horrific symptoms of the disease is the bleeding from mucuous membranes. Bleeding occurs in about 50% of Ebola cases and is one of the ways that the virus is spread from person to person. Prognosis is poor but survival is possible. Patients who do survive can either recover quickly or face many complications along the path to recovery.
There have been many attempts to create vaccinations for Ebola, but none of them have been approved. Scientists are continuing to work on possible vaccines and one may be approved in the near future. Until then, Ebola is treated by preventing dehydration, managing pain and administering anticoagulants to prevent severe bleeding.
In Guinea, 59 of the 80 people infected during the outbreak have died, three of which were young children. The arrival of supplies and doctors may mean a higher survival rate for those infected. The ability to quarentine the infected patients will have the greatest effect as it will help control the outbreak and prevent the virus from spreading.
“These structures are essential to prevent the spread of the disease, which is highly contagious,” explained Dr. Esther Sterkof of Doctors Without Borders, adding, “Specialized staff are providing care to patients showing signs of infection.”
Currently, the outbreak is only occuring in the forest area of southern Guinea. Health officials are providing free treatment for the infected and are urging people within the area to stay calm, wash their hands often and report any symptoms to health officials or the authorities.
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 21, 2014

Moorpark Boy Latest To Be Diagnosed With Mysterious Polio-Like Illness

MOORPARK ( — A 2-year-old Moorpark boy is the latest to be diagnosed with a mysterious polio-like illness.
When Lucian Olivera was 11 months, he had an ear infection. Then, he couldn’t stand or use his legs.
For months, doctors didn’t know what was wrong.
“I felt helpless. It was extremely frustrating. It was hard to sit and not be able to help him,” Olivera’s mother, Erin, said.
On Friday, the family went to Stanford University, where it was confirmed Olivera had the polio-like syndrome.
“You don’t realize what you have until something goes really, really wrong,” Erin said.
So far, there have been 20 cases of the paralyzing virus in the state.
Doctors said Olivera’s case is the first in Southern California.
They’re still researching all the possibilities.
“Really, it’s unknown the severity of this for each individual. The thought is that it is permanent, but we don’t know all the things that will happen to every patient,” Dr. John Dingilian said.
KCAL9’s Brittney Hopper reported that Olivera has to wear a brace for his legs. He will most likely never be able to walk on his own.
Olivera’s mother, however, said it’s his smile and determination that keeps everyone going.
“You’ll see him trying his hardest with the cane and that determination makes me keep going forward,” Erin said.

'Chicken from hell' found who lived alongside T. rex

Scientists discovered nearly-complete remains of the bizarre dinosaur in the U.S.

By Reuters | Mar. 20, 2014 | 11:57 AM

This illustration provided by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History on March 18, 2014.
This illustration provided by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History on March 18, 2014 shows the 'chicken from hell' dinosaur. Photo by AP

Reconstructed skull of the crested hell-chicken, otherwise known as the dinosaur Anzu wyliei. Photo by AP
Wikimedia Commons
A fossil Microraptor gui preserved with its feathers intact: The arrows point at some. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
If you're a dinosaur with a nickname as funky as "the chicken from hell," you had better be able to back it up.
A dinosaur called Anzu wyliei that scientists identified on Wednesday from fossils found in North Dakota and South Dakota does just that. It had a head shaped like a bird's, a toothless beak, an odd crest on its cranium, hands with big sharp claws, long legs for fast running and was probably covered in feathers.
It is the largest North American example of a type of bird-like dinosaur well known from Asia. Its extensive remains offer a detailed picture of the North American branch of these dinosaurs that had remained mysterious since their first bones were found about a century ago, the scientists said.
What would someone think if they encountered this creature that lived 66 million years ago? "I don't know whether they would scream and run away, or laugh, because it is just an absurd-looking monster chicken," said University of Utah paleontologist Emma Schachner, one of the researchers.
Anzu wyliei measured over 3 meters long, 1.5 meters tall at the hip and weighed about 200 to 300 kg, the researchers said.
"It has the nickname 'the chicken from hell.' And that's a pretty good description," said paleontologist Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.
"If you could get in a time machine and go back to Western North America at the end of the age of dinosaurs and see this thing, I would say your first reaction might be, 'What a weird looking bird,'" Lamanna added. "It would not look like most people's conception of a dinosaur."
Scientists think birds arose much earlier from small feathered dinosaurs. The earliest known bird is 150 million years old. This dinosaur's bird-like traits included a beak, hollow leg bones and air spaces in its backbone, paleontologist said Hans-Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.
Its bizarre head crest resembled that of the cassowary, a flightless bird native to Australia and New Guinea.
Fossils of feathers are extremely rare and they were not found with any of the three partial skeletons of Anzu wyliei. But the researchers believe it had feathers based on fossils of close relatives from China that have clear evidence of them.
Asian cousins
It closely resembles its Asian cousins like Oviraptor, whose fossils have been found brooding over a clutch of its eggs in a bird-like manner. The Asian part of the family includes many well-preserved examples, from ones as small as a turkey to one even bigger than Anzu wyliei. The North American branch until now had been represented by largely fragmentary remains.
Anzu wyliei lived at the sunset of the age of dinosaurs, not long before an enormous meteorite is thought to have struck Earth about 65.5 million years ago and wiped them out along with hordes of other creatures, while sparing many birds.
It lived in a humid, warm, low-lying environment dotted with rivers and swamps that may have looked like the Louisiana bayou. It was lush with vegetation and plant-eating dinosaurs like the horned Triceratops, armored Ankylosaurus, dome-headed Pachycephalosaurus and duck-billed Edmontosaurus.
But also hanging around the neighborhood was one of the fiercest predators in Earth's history, Tyrannosaurus rex.
Anzu wyliei may have been an omnivore, munching on leaves, fruits or flowers while also swallowing the occasional mammal foolish enough to cross its path, the researchers said.
It probably needed to be careful not to end up on someone else's menu. "To a T. rex, this thing would not look like a 'chicken from hell.' It would look like lunch," Lamanna said.
Its genus name, Anzu, is named after a feathered demon in Sumerian mythology. Its species name, wyliei, honors the grandson of a trustee of the Carnegie museum in Pittsburgh where the lead researcher works.
The three sets of bones - which together included almost all parts of the skeleton - come from a region famed for dinosaur remains known as the Hell Creek Formation of the Dakotas and Montana. Two of the three sets of remains had partially healed injuries, perhaps the remnants of a couple of dinosaur tussles.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Protein May Hold Key to Who Gets Alzheimer’s, Study Finds

The New York Times
It is one of the big scientific mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease: Why do some people whose brains accumulate the plaques and tangles so strongly associated with Alzheimer’s not develop the disease?
Now, a series of studies by Harvard scientists suggests a possible answer, one that could lead to new treatments if confirmed by other research.
The memory and thinking problems of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias may be related to a failure in the brain’s stress response system, the new research suggests. If this system is working well, it can protect the brain from abnormal Alzheimer’s proteins; if it gets derailed, key areas of the brain start degenerating.
“This is an extremely important study,” said Li-Huei Tsai, director of the Picower institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the research but wrote a commentary accompanying the study. “This is the first study that is really starting to provide a plausible pathway to explain why some people are more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s than other people.”
Amyloid plaques form in the brain of a patient with Alzheimer’s disease. Credit Yankner laboratory
The research, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, focuses on a protein previously thought to act mostly in the brains of developing fetuses. The scientists found that the protein also appears to protect neurons in healthy older people from aging-related stresses. But in people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, the protein is sharply depleted in key brain regions.
Experts said if other scientists can replicate and expand upon the findings, the role of the protein, called REST, could spur development of new drugs for dementia, which has so far been virtually impossible to treat. But they cautioned that much more needs to be determined, including whether the decline of REST is a cause, or an effect, of brain deterioration, and whether it is specific enough to neurological diseases that it could lead to effective therapies.
“You’re going to see a lot of papers now following up on it,” said Dr. Eric M. Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, who was not involved in the study. “While it’s a preliminary finding, it raises an avenue that hasn’t been considered before. And if this provides a handle on which to understand normal brain aging, that will be great too.”
REST, a gene regulator that switches off certain genes, is primarily known to keep fetal neurons in an immature state until they develop to perform brain functions, said Dr. Bruce A. Yankner, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and the new study’s lead author. By the time babies are born, REST becomes inactive, he said, except in some areas outside the brain like the colon, where it seems to suppress cancer.
While investigating how different genes in the brain change as people age, Dr. Yankner’s team was startled to find that REST was the most active gene regulator in older brains.
“Why should a fetal gene be coming on in an aging brain?” he wondered. He hypothesized that it was because in aging, as in birth, brains encounter great stress, threatening neurons that cannot regenerate if harmed.
His team discovered that REST appears to switch off genes that promote cell death, protecting neurons from normal aging processes like energy decrease, inflammation and oxidative stress.
Analyzing brains from brain banks and dementia studies, the researchers found that brains of young adults aged 20 to 35 contained little REST, while healthy adults between the ages of 73 and 106 had a lot. REST levels grew the older people got, so long as they did not develop dementia, suggesting REST is related to longevity.
But in people with Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment, frontotemporal dementia and Lewy body dementia, the brain areas affected by these diseases contained much less REST than healthy brains.
This was true only in people who actually had memory and thinking problems. People who remained cognitively healthy, but whose brains had the same accumulation of amyloid plaques and tau tangles as people with Alzheimer’s, had three times more REST than dementia sufferers.
REST levels dropped as symptoms worsened, so people with mild cognitive impairment had more REST than Alzheimer’s patients. And only key brain regions were affected. In Alzheimer’s, REST steeply declined in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, areas critical to learning, memory and planning. Other areas of the brain not involved in Alzheimer’s showed no REST drop-off.
It is not yet possible to analyze REST levels in the brains of living people, and several Alzheimer’s experts said that fact limited what the new research could prove.
John Hardy, an Alzheimer’s researcher at University College London, cautioned in an email that information from post-mortem brains cannot prove a decline in REST causes dementia because death may produce unrelated damage to brain cells.
To probe further, the team conducted what both Dr. Tsai and Dr. Reiman called a “tour de force” of research, examining REST in mice, roundworms and cells in the lab.
“We wanted to make sure the story was right,” Dr. Yankner said. “It was difficult to believe at first, to be honest with you.”
Especially persuasive was that mice genetically engineered to lack REST lost neurons as they aged in brain areas afflicted in Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Yankner said REST appears to work by traveling to a neuron’s nucleus when the brain is stressed. In dementia, though, REST somehow gets diverted, traveling with toxic dementia-related proteins to another part of the neuron where it is eventually destroyed.
Experts said the research, while intriguing, leaves many unanswered questions. Bradley Wise of the National Institute on Aging’s neuroscience division, which helped finance the studies, said REST’s role needs further clarification. “I don’t think you can really say if it’s a cause of Alzheimer’s or a consequence of Alzheimer’s” yet, he said.
Dr. Samuel Gandy, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Mount Sinai Medical Center, wondered if REST figured only in neurodegenerative diseases or in other diseases too, which could make it difficult to use REST to develop specific treatments or diagnostic tests for dementia.
“My ambivalence is, is this really a way that advances our understanding of the disease or does this just this just tell us this is even more complicated than we thought?” he said.
Dr. Yankner’s team is looking at REST in other neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s. He also has thoughts about a potential treatment, lithium, which he said appears to stimulate REST function, and is considered relatively safe.
But he and other experts said it was too early. “I would hesitate to start rushing into lithium treatment” unless rigorous studies show it can forestall dementia, said Dr. John Morris, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.
Still, Dr. Morris said, the REST research the team conducted so far is “very well done, and certainly helps support this idea that we’ve all tried to understand about why Alzheimer’s is age-associated and why, while amyloid is necessary for the development of Alzheimer’s disease, it certainly is not sufficient.” He added, “There have to be some other processes and triggers that result in Alzheimer’s.”
Correction: March 19, 2014
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the gender of Dr. Li-Huei Tsai. She is a woman.