90 soldiers contracted Q fever while serving in Afghanistan

At least 90 British military personnel have been diagnosed with confirmed cases of Q fever after serving in Helmand, Afghanistan, a British court heard this week.

According to a UK military news outlet, Forces Network, a consultant in infectious diseases and tropical medicine told the Central London Country Court on Tuesday that 90 confirmed cases of Q Fever had been recorded among British soldiers who had served in Helmand.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Bailey’s testimony was heard in the case of Wayne Bass, a private with 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, who said his life has been ruined after he contracted the disease while in Helmand in 2011/2012.

Humans can catch Q fever by breathing in dust from the feces of infected farm animals such as sheep, cattle and goats.

During his tour, his lawyers said Bass was in contact with goats and sheep and “was often required to take cover and jump through ditches and crawl along the ground – coming into contact with animal products and excrement”.

Bass, 34, was medically discharged from the Army in 2014 because of his Q fever and chronic fatigue symptoms.

Bailey, who specializes in infectious diseases and tropical medicine, and a national expert in Q fever, gave evidence during the second day of the trial.

Under questioning from Theo Huckle QC for Bass, Bailey said he has 90 military and 10 civilian cases in his care after they were referred to him.

He confirmed the 90 had served in Helmand and said the number of military cases “built up from 2008”, Forces Network reported.

Bailey told the court: “We have seen no new cases since 2014 from Afghanistan. Occasionally we get other military cases from other locations. Cyprus most recently.”

Bailey said he had seen “one British soldier who very, very nearly died” as a result of Q fever and subsequent complications, but there have been no UK deaths in his group.

In court documents setting out the case, it is argued that the MoD should have considered using Doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat Q fever, as an anti-malarial drug, Forces Network reported.

The MoD however denies failing in its duty of care – pointing out that a vaccine used by some countries is not licensed in the UK.

Student dies after eating five-day old pasta that had been left out

(Correction: This actually happened in 2008 and the paper was published in 2011. Still a good reminder of the importance of temperature control.)

Who doesn’t experiment in college?

But meddling with microbiology can be particularly risky.

A student died after eating leftover pasta that had been left on his kitchen benchtop for five days.

The 20-year-old from the Brussels in Belgium became sick after eating leftover spaghetti with tomato sauce which had been prepared five days earlier and stored at room temperature.

After becoming violently ill, he went to bed to try and sleep the sickness off, only to be found dead in bed the next morning by his devastated parents.

An autopsy later revealed he died from Bacillus cereus.

The story has been featured by Dr Bernard, a licenced practitioner who studies and shares bizarre medical cases from around the world on his YouTube channel.

Dr Bernard analysed the case, which originally featured in the US Journal of Clinical Microbiology, along with several others in a dramatised re-enactment, explaining the harmful bacteria caused AJ’s liver to shut down.

Samples of spoiled pasta and tomato sauce samples were also analysed, with the National Reference Laboratory for Food-borne Outbreak confirming the spaghetti was contaminated with “significant amounts” of the B. cereus — while it was absent in the sauce.

Pasteurization works: Acai fruit can transmit Chagas disease

I need to start playing the banjo again.

Artisan juice made with açaí, the fruit of a palm that grows in the rainforests of northern Brazil, could be a major source of infection with Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, two studies suggest.

The disease affects around eight million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and is transmitted by triatomine bugs ‒ blood-sucking insects known by several different names in Latin America (chinche, chirimacha and barbero, among others).
Symptoms of the disease can appear in the first months after the infection, but most people do not show signs of the disease, which makes early diagnosis difficult. When the disease evolves to the chronic phase it can cause cardiac and digestive complications.

The new studies suggest that people can become infected by consuming açaí when the insect vector, or its faeces, are accidentally mixed with the fruit while blending the juice.

The fruit comes into contact with the vector during processing and storage: while kept in open baskets, the açaí fruit ferments and generates carbon dioxide, which attracts the triatomine insect.

One of the papers, published this month in Emerging Infectious Diseases, studied ten individuals in the cities of Manaus and Labrea, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, who had symptoms of fever, headaches and general weakness. The researchers found that these patients were infected with the same varieties of parasite found in artisan açaí juice they had consumed days earlier.

“The findings reinforce the hypothesis that in the Amazon region, açaí juice prepared by hand is one of the sources of infection by the parasite,” says Marcus Lacerda, a physician at the Tropical Medicine Foundation in Manaus, and one of the authors of the study.

Another study, published in the magazine Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, confirms that the growth of Chagas disease in Pará, one of the country’s highest açaí juice-consuming states, is associated with the harvest season of the fruit between August and December.

This conclusion was based on analysis of the state records from Brazil’s Information System for Notifiable Diseases (SINAN), between 2000 and 2016. During this period, 16,807 cases of Chagas disease were reported, and 2,030 of them were confirmed. Most of the confirmed cases occurred during the second half of each year.

Juliana de Meis, immunologist of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC-Fiocruz), in Rio de Janeiro, tells SciDev.Net that further analysis of the data suggests that oral transmission increased much more than other infection routes in that period. De Meis believes that this new study adds to evidence that açaí is one of the main sources of infection by T. cruzi in the region.

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, 54 per cent of the national production (800,000 tons of açaí per year) comes from 13,000 producers in the state of Pará.

In Belém, the capital of Pará, it is estimated that 200,000 liters of açaí are consumed per day during harvest season ‒ double the quantity consumed in other seasons. This makes it the second most consumed food in the city during that season.

Part of the local production is exported to other regions of Brazil, and further afield to the United States and European countries.

Chagas disease is one of the major health problems facing countries and states in the Amazon region, causing disability in infected people and more than 10,000 deaths per year.

Cases of the disease are growing systematically, says the second study, specifically in Brazil’s Northern Region. According to the 2015 epidemiological bulletin of the country’s Ministry of Health, 812 cases of oral transmission of Chagas disease were confirmed in the state of Pará between 2000 and 2013.

“However, everything indicates that these numbers are an underestimate”, points out De Meisor Angela Junqueira, a biologist at the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases of IOC-Fiocruz, açaí juice contamination can be avoided by appropriate handling of the fruit, including dipping the fruit in boiling water for ten seconds and then spraying them with cold water.

“Although this procedure has been mandatory since 2012, the practice has not been used in the region”, she tells SciDev.Net. 

Junqueira says the risks of disease transmission through açaí consumption outside of the northern region are low, because juice exported to other regions or countries undergo mandatory pasteurization.

“In the Northern Region … it is essential to invest in training of physicians and microscopy specialists so that they can identify the symptoms and make early lab diagnosis”, she suggests.

“It is also necessary to focus on staff training so that they adopt good management practices during the processing of açaí, such as covering the baskets and blenders, and washing the fruit with boiling water”, says Junqueira, adding that the fruit is important for the local economy and diet.

A book that will make you terrified of your own house

That’s the headline in the N.Y. Times, but as I try to tell my 10-year-old (seen here with one of her older sisters as a 4-years-old after the skating coach told her she had to wear figure skates and not hockey skates, and I said, I’m Canadian, your wrong, and when was the last time Russian women successfully competed in ice hockey) there are microbes all around us, we just have to try and understand them.

I’m still convinced we are all hosts on a viral planet.

And I figure Schaffner should review this book, but he’s a busy dude, so I’ll do it.

From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live by Rob Dunn is a collection of the myriad microbial life-forms that take up residence in a typical American showerhead, I’m starting to think maybe that young man was onto something.

With an army of collaborators, Dunn, a professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University, took samples of the gunk inside hundreds of showerheads, and found a profusion of microbial fauna. Tap water itself, he writes in the chatty, informative “Never Home Alone,” teems with amoebas, bacteria, nematodes and crustaceans. As the water passes through the showerhead, these microbes lay down a kind of scaffolding known as biofilm to protect themselves from getting washed away with every ablution. They make the biofilm “out of their own excretions,” Dunn writes bluntly. “In essence, by working together, the bacteria poop a little indestructible condominium in your pipes.”

It gets worse. Filtered through that poop-biofilm, the water that washes over you, as you supposedly scrub yourself clean, might contain not only all those harmless amoebas and nematodes but a few bacteria that can be dangerous — in particular some species of Mycobacterium, cousins of the Mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis. And the pathogens are there because we provided the perfect breeding ground for them, when we tried to purify our tap water in the first place. Municipal water treatment plants use chlorine and other chemicals that kill off the bacterium’s natural predators, allowing Mycobacterium to thrive. Tap water that comes from a well, in contrast, has never gone through a treatment plant and has a rich microbial life. It might look more dangerous, but it’s actually safer, Dunn explains. All those organisms in well water are themselves harmless, and they tend to fight off the potentially dangerous ones like Mycobacterium — that’s how biodiversity works.

News from the showerhead biome is just one part of this fact-filled, occasionally disgusting, slightly alarming book. Dunn has been involved in an obsessive quest to document the tiny inhabitants of indoor environments, a project that involves teams of professional and amateur bug-watchers to take samples not only from showerheads but from door frames, refrigerators, hot water heaters, cellars, toilets, pillowcases, all sorts of surfaces from the places we call home. These workers swab and seal, swab and seal, and send their thousands of samples to Dunn’s lab in Raleigh, or to his other lab at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, for an ongoing microbial census.

How can you have your pudding if you don’t eat your meat? Pink Floyd figured out educating don’t mean much in 1979

Compelling stories are what get people to pay attention.

The U.S Centers for Disease Control in 2011, when an outbreak of variant virus infections* in people was linked to exposure to pigs at agricultural fairs, public health officials quickly recognized the need to support states in using a One Health approach to respond effectively to novel influenza A and other zoonotic disease outbreaks in rural areas. The approach would need to involve organizations focused in animal and human health, as well as members of the communities most at risk. In the United States, there are around 7.2 million youth actively involved in 4-H and FFA combined1. CDC and USDA saw that working with these youth groups could be an effective way to reach rural Americans with important influenza and zoonoses prevention education to protect the 150 million people who visit agricultural fairs each year, as well as the animals shown and exhibited in these venues

To improve influenza education and communication efforts around youth in agriculture, several government and non-governmental organizations partnered to launch a pilot program called Influenza Education among Youth in Agriculture. The program has since taken off, reaching hundreds of thousands of youth and their families across rural America and has expanded to include other zoonotic diseases caused by infections such as E. coli and Salmonella. The program is a joint effort of federal government (CDC and USDA), the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), several state health departments, land-grant universities and the 4-H programs run out of them, and state departments of agriculture. These One Health partners work together to develop hands-on activities for youth, zoonotic disease curricula and lesson plans, educational workshops, biosecurity and handwashing posters, and also hold meetings to foster relationships, build networks, and achieve project goals to protect human and animal health.</em

Because we’ve always wanted antiviral Kleenex

We’re all hosts on a viral planet.

And no, antiviral Kleenex won’t do much.

Erin Biba of The Daily Beast writes that you’ve probably spotted antiviral tissues in the paper goods aisle at your local grocery store. And if you’ve got any kind of science-focused Spidey sense it’s entirely possible they’ve set off pseudoscience alarm bells.

After all, antivirals are usually reserved for prescription-only medications that are used to treat the only most dire cases of flu. And, while you’re right to be skeptical (because honestly we should all always be skeptical of everything), digging into the science reveals antiviral tissues actually do what they claim and inactivate viruses.

Manufactured by Kleenex, and on store shelves since 2004, antiviral tissues are actually patented and approved by the EPA. While their ingredients do not include prescription antiviral medications, the active substances inside the tissues are citric acid and sodium lauryl sulfate, a chemical found in many soaps.

Though the packaging claims to “kill” viruses, what these substances actually do is inactivate them because viruses aren’t alive—they just hijack our cells for their own purposes. In fact, according to Vincent Racaniello, a microbiologist and virus expert at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine of CUNY, has personally seen citric acid actually “exploding” viruses upon contact in his lab.

11 dead, dozens ill after eating rice at Indian temple

I never get rice.

Only a little temperature abuse can cause a lot of barfing.

Rice is grown in the ground, is laden with various spore-forming bacteria, which spring to life when the temperature and environment are just right.

Like leaving it at room temperature.

Eleven people have died and dozens more have fallen ill after eating rice at a temple in India, police say.

About 70 people have been admitted to hospital after eating the food following a ceremony in the southern state of Karnataka.

A police spokesman told the BBC that 11 patients are in a critical condition.

Two people have reportedly been arrested following the incident, and one health official told local media that the food may have been poisoned.

Septin proteins act as cellular police to identify, imprison and kill Shigella

A team, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, has uncovered the strongest evidence yet that septins take Shigella prisoner.

It reveals for the first time that these proteins can detect where bacteria will split for division and prevent it from doing so by forming cage-like structures around the bacteria.

The research team say that although septins are a powerful, natural mechanism to restrict Shigella, future work is required to determine how septin biology can be harnessed for therapeutic purposes. It is hoped that these new findings may lead to a novel way to boost the human immune system and treat a wide variety of bacterial infections.

Lead author Professor Serge Mostowy from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said: “We are actively working to engineer this discovery for human health application. If we can use drugs to boost septin caging, we have a new way to stop infection.”

In 2010, researchers first observed that septin cages can entrap Shigella, opening up the tantalising prospect of a new way to stop the bacteria spreading in the body. However, how cells recognise Shigella for entrapment, and the fate of entrapped bacteria, was mostly unknown.

The authors acknowledge limitations of the study including the possibility that some bacteria have evolved to avoid septin cage entrapment, and the need for in vivo study prior to application in humans.

As a comedian in all seriousness: What happens when B. cereus invades human cells

Tegan Taylor of ABC asks, what’s happening inside your body when you have food poisoning?

Research published today has given us a slightly clearer idea, at least for one type of bacteria.

A team from the Australian National University looked at the way the body responds to the bacteria Bacillus cereus, which can cause food poisoning and sometimes lead to serious infections elsewhere in the body, including sepsis, pneumonia and meningitis.

They found a toxin secreted by the bacteria binds directly to cells in the human body and punches holes in the cells to kill them, triggering an immune response.

Understanding the way toxins produced by this bacteria provoke inflammation in the body is a key to understanding how to treat it, said lead researcher Anukriti Mathur.

“Our immune system acts as a double-edged sword in these kinds of cases,” Ms Mathur said.

“In certain cases where you’ve got a bacterial infection it would be really essential to boost our immune system so that it is stronger.

“However in cases such as sepsis, where you’ve got unwanted inflammation happening in your body, you want to dampen the inflammatory responses.

“A very unique balance is required in protecting us against different kinds of infections.”

But what is it about this bacteria punching holes in your cells that leaves you hunched over a toilet bowl?

It has to do with the parts of your nervous system being targeted by the toxins produced by the bacteria, according to Vincent Ho, a University of Western Sydney gastroenterologist and researcher who was not involved in the study.

Bacillus cereus produces more than 12 different toxins. One triggers vomiting and another diarrhea, Dr Ho explained.

The vomit-inducing toxin, called cereulide, binds to serotonin receptors in the stomach and small bowel and stimulates the vagus nerve, which controls muscle movement in the gut.

“That signals back up to the vomiting centres of the brain,” he said.

“And in a very similar way that is how the diarrheal form also works too. It’s causing direct stimulation of the small bowel, and that’s triggering a reactive response of reflex mechanism called the gastro-colic reflex.

“The toxins are stimulating against receptors in the gut lining … triggering a lot more movement of the muscle in the gut and the colon.”

Bacillus cereus can be found in vegetables, rice and pasta, as well as meat and fish, and will grow in these foods if they are stored at the wrong temperature.

UK father paralysed after food poisoning issues safety warning to others

ITV news reports a father who became paralysed after contracting a rare illness from food poisoning has issued a warning to others about food safety.

Dai Braham, 40, was left paralysed from the nose down after becoming unwell while watching his six-year-old son play rugby in April.

Within a matter of days, he was in an induced coma.

Father-of-two Dai was a keen bodybuilder and fitness fanatic

It was only later that medical staff discovered the fitness fanatic from Bridgend had been suffering from food poisoning campylobacter – which led to the rare autoimmune disorder Guillian-Barré Syndrome.

At his worst point, he found himself unable to breathe without a ventilator and without a voice.

“It’s the scariest thing in the world. You are basically locked in your own body”, Dai said.

“Your mind is fine and you know what you want your body to do but you just can’t do it.

“It was horrible, I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I could blink to say yes or no or use a letter card. Then I would use words on a board to spell out certain words.”

Dai has spent the last eight months in hospital and has only recently learned to walk again.

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome?

It is thought to be caused by a problem with the immune system, and can be triggered by infections including food poisoning and the flu as well as by vaccinations, surgery or injury.

Symptoms of the condition include numbness, pins and needles, muscle weakness, and problems with balance and co-ordination.