A lab accident in France likely led to a woman’s death from prions 9 years later

As the co-author of Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk (1997) I couldn’t let this slide.

A lab accident in 2010 likely led to a woman’s untimely death nearly a decade later, according to doctors in France. In a recent case study, they describe how a woman in her early 30s developed a universally fatal brain disorder years after she had pierced her skin with equipment used to handle infectious rogue proteins called prions.

Prions are a type of protein that exist naturally in our brains. Ordinarily, they’re thought to be harmless, though their exact function remains a mystery. But rarely, they can transform into a misfolded version that compels normal prions to change shape, too. Over years or even decades, this cascade of misfolded prions destroys the brain from the inside out, leaving behind signature sponge-like holes under a microscope. Because of these holes, prion diseases are also medically known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

Prion diseases often happen with no clear rhyme or reason — native prions just seem to spontaneously pull a heel turn. Other times, a person’s inherited genetics are to blame. But what makes prions even scarier is that they can be also infectious, spreading from one person to another or across different species of animals.

In the 1980s and 1990s, scientists noticed outbreaks of cows that were developing their own prion disease, which became popularly known as mad cow disease. Years later, we began seeing people develop a never-before-seen sort of prion disease, which was eventually traced to them eating contaminated beef (meanwhile, the cows were being infected from eating animal feed that contained brain matter from other infected cows and possibly sheep). Medically, this infectious type of prion disease became known as variant-Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), to distinguish it from the classic version that’s the most common but still very rare prion disease in humans.

The young woman had been a lab technician in a research facility studying prions in 2010, according to a case study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this month. One day in May, she was using a pair of curved forceps to handle frozen, prion-infected brain samples taken from mice genetically engineered to develop human prions, when the forceps slipped and stabbed into her thumb. Though she was wearing two pairs of protective gloves, the sharp ends pierced her skin and drew blood. She was only 24 at the time.

About seven and a half years later, in November 2017, she began experiencing a burning pain down her right shoulder and neck. Her condition worsened over the next year, to the point of memory impairment, visual hallucinations, and muscle stiffness along her right side by January 2019. Eventually, 19 months after the onset of symptoms, she died. Tests before her death strongly suggested she had vCJD, which was confirmed post-mortem.

It’s possible that the woman might have caught vCJD through eating tainted beef made before sharp shifts in the meat processing industry came along that seemed to end the threat of mad cow disease in the 1990s. But that would be very unlikely, according to the authors, because vCJD isn’t thought to take longer than a decade to show up after exposure in people with the woman’s genetic makeup. Nearly all known cases of vCJD have been in people who share a specific but relatively common genetic variation of their prion gene, called MM, which the women also carried. But the timing does work out if you assume she caught vCJD through the lab accident.

Prion diseases remain incredibly rare, and even in cases where they are infectious, genetics seem to strongly influence the risk of actually becoming sick (only a few hundred cases of vCJD have ever been reported worldwide). But this isn’t the first time that a case of vCJD has been linked to exposure in a lab, according to the authors, suggesting that more could be done to keep scientists and technicians safe during the valuable work they do to understand these utterly mysterious things. Prions are notoriously very hard to “kill” using traditional decontamination methods, which provides an added source of concern for medical procedures involving the brain.

New Zealand deputy PM takes medical leave after food poisoning

New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and man who thinks he looks cool, Winston Peters, said last Thursday he would take medical leave this week to undergo surgery after suffering from a bout of food poisoning.

“This is an unexpected medical event and of course unexpected timing. However the doctor’s advice on having surgery needs to be followed,” Peters, who is also the foreign minister, said in a statement.

No mention of causative agent.

Salmonella in the gut may cause neurological diseases like Parkinson’s

I have several friends with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Bacterial blood infection, computer illustration.

My grandfather died of Alzheimer’s 35 years ago, and I was there when his wife took her own life rather than face another winter with someone who didn’t know who she was.

Much respect.

These science stories may inevitably turn out to be down the rabbit hole, but I present them so folks know what is being discussed, BS or not.

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes an intestinal tract infection from contaminated food or water. It was recently discovered that salmonella in the gut is linked to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

A collaboration between Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and Temple University (Philadelphia, U.S.) analyzed the effect of Salmonella biofilm protein on animals. They observed that bacteria can cause arthritis and autoimmune responses.

Salmonella biofilms typically form in the environment such as surfaces where raw meat is prepared. Biofilms are bacteria that densely stuck together in response to harmful conditions like disinfectants and antibiotics.

Dr. Aaron White, an expert on salmonella biofilms and curli amyloids, alongside his team found Salmonella biofilms forming on the intestines of infected mice models. The biofilm protein ‘curli’ appeared as the scientists replicated the food-borne illness associated with the bacteria.

Within four to six weeks, curli formed in the colon and cecum, or the beginning of the large intestine, of the mice. The scientists also ruled out that curli was produced solely by Salmonella and not by other bacterial species.

 

US Cyclospora infections from salads rise, found in Canada

Chris Koger of The Packer reports that cases of Cyclospora infection linked to Fresh Express salads continue to rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Canada is reporting its first cases.

Lab-confirmed cases thought to be linked to iceberg lettucecarrots or red cabbage in garden salads were 509 in the U.S, as of July 9, according to the CDC. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on July 8 reported 37 cases in Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The salads, including private-label bagged garden salads, were processed at Fresh Express’ Streamwood, Ill., facility, according to the FDA.

Fresh Express has recalled salads from the plant containing the three ingredients under investigation, along with Aldi, Giant Eagle, Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco, ShopRite and Walmart issuing recalls of private label salads.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported on June 28 Fresh Express had recalled products in Canada. They were distributed nationwide by Crescent Multi-Foods, Federated Co-Operatives Ltd., Fresh Express and Walmart Canada Corp., according to the Canadian Agency.

An edited version of the latest CDC update is below:

On June 27, 2020, Fresh Express recalled Fresh Express brand and private label brand salad products produced at its Streamwood, IL facility that contain iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, and/or carrots due to possible Cyclospora contamination.

509 people with laboratory-confirmed Cyclospora infections and who reported eating bagged salad mix before getting sick have been reported from 8 Midwestern states (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin).

Illnesses started on dates ranging from May 11, 2020 to July 1, 2020.

33 people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

The Public Health Agency of Canada  is investigating an outbreak of Cyclospora infections occurring in three Canadian provinces. Exposure to certain Fresh Express brand salad products containing iceberg lettuce, carrots and red cabbage, has been identified as a likely source of the outbreak.

Epidemiologic and traceback evidence indicates that bagged salad mix containing iceberg lettuce, carrots, and red cabbage produced by Fresh Express is a likely source of this outbreak.

CDC and FDA continue to investigate to determine which ingredient or ingredients in the salad mix was contaminated and whether other products are a source of illnesses. CDC will provide updates when more information is available.

Since the last case count update on June 26, 2020, 303 new laboratory-confirmed Cyclospora infections have been reported.

As of July 8, 2020, a total of 509 people with laboratory-confirmed Cyclospora infections associated with this outbreak have been reported from 8 states: Illinois (151), Iowa (160), Kansas (5), Minnesota (63), Missouri (46) Nebraska (48), North Dakota (6), and Wisconsin (30).

Illnesses started on dates ranging from May 11, 2020 to July 1, 2020. Ill people range in age from 11 to 92 years with a median age of 60 and 53% are female. Of 506 people with available information, 33 people (7%) have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 4 to 6 weeks. If the number of cases reported by CDC is different from the number reported by state or local health officials, data reported by local jurisdictions should be considered the most up to date. Any differences may be due to the timing of reporting and website updates.

Additionally, the Public Health Agency of Canada  is investigating an outbreak of Cyclospora infections occurring in three Canadian provinces where exposure to certain Fresh Express brand salad products containing iceberg lettuce, carrots and red cabbage, has been identified as a likely source of the outbreak.

Hundreds of drones take to the South Korea sky to send message of social distancing and handwashing

South Korea has done everything big on coronavirus.

Now, over 300 drones have taken to the sky in South Korea to remind people of the importance of practicing social distancing and handwashing.

This resulted in a spectacular display over the Han River on Saturday.

The drones formed a white face mask and red circles were used to symbolize coronavirus particles, which has claimed the lives of almost 300 people in the country.

Messages of support and images of medical workers also appeared in the 10-minute display that was organized by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.

One of the displays said “ThanksToChallenge”, which made reference to a South Korean social media campaign that was created to show thanks to healthcare workers in the county.

There were no crowds watching the event because it was not advertised ahead of time.

The government captioned a video of the event on YouTube: “Thank you for the efforts of the people and medical staff.

“We express our gratitude and respect to all who suffer from Covid-19.”

This display comes after South Korea was praised for its response to the virus, quickly containing the initial outbreak, although the country has experienced sporadic cases since – caused by small gatherings and door-to-door sales practices.

According to the Mirror, South Korea has reported just 68 cases of coronavirus today and 33 of them are imported.

However, the country is preparing itself for a potential second wave of infections and this drone display was undoubtedly a timely reminder to its citizens that they are not out of the woods yet.

Vietnam too.

 

Outbreak of bubonic plague in Mongolia as two brothers are infected after eating marmot meat

Two brothers have contracted the deadly bubonic plague after feasting on the meat of rodents.

The men, from Mongolia, are said to have contracted the deadly disease from marmots – in a country where consuming the innards of the animals is traditionally believed to be good for your health.

Pansoch Buyainbat, 27, and his brother, 17, are being treated in separate hospitals in Khovd province in western Mongolia.

The older brother is in a “critical” condition.

The cases have now sparked urgent checks on 146 people with whom they were in contact.

Health officials now face a big task ahead of them as it’s believed 500 people may already be affected, say reports.

The bacterial infection can kill adults within 24 hours if not treated in time, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Major security precautions have been put into operation amid fears of a spread.

The plague is spread by fleas living on wild rodents such as marmots, a large type of squirrel.

The country’s National Centre for Zoonotic Diseases confirmed that bubonic plague had been diagnosed and emergency meetings have been set up.

It is a recurrent problem in the East Asian nation.

A couple died of bubonic plague in the western Mongolian province of Bayan-Ulgii in April 2019, after eating raw marmot meat.

It prompted authorities to warn against eating raw marmot because it can carry Yersinia pestis , the plague germ.

The plague is spread by marmots coughing or through the bite of the tarbagan flea they carry, or through consumption of their meat.

Is quarantine the right time to get a puppy?

Yes

We got George, to go with Ted,  a few weeks ago when he was 8 weeks old.

I’ve had turtles that small but never a dog

Ronda Kaysen of the New York Times asked the same question a week ago.

For Julie Taylor, a TV writer and producer in Glendale, Calif., the answer was two.

Stuck at home with her husband and two teenage children following coronavirus stay-at-home orders, she started to get the itch in mid-March for something furry, happy and oblivious to the stress going on around her.

“It hit me pretty much as soon as we locked down. I really wanted a dog,” said Ms. Taylor, 48. “I can turn on the news at night and three hours later I’m still watching. I get sucked in. I was hoping a dog could help me be more in the moment.”

So earlier this month, the family adopted an 8-month-old pug named Bentley from a friend of a friend, immediately transforming their home life from gloomy to giddy. For the teenagers, the puppy offered a reprieve from the disappointment of a stunted social life. Bentley “has been a fast distraction,” Ms. Taylor said. “He’s added a lot of life into the house.”

On Petfinder.com, adoption inquiries in the four weeks between March 15 and April 15 jumped 122 percent from the previous four weeks. Americans are fostering, too, as shelters look to empty their facilities during the pandemic. Since March 15, more than 1,500 people have completed online foster applications for the ASPCA’s New York City and Los Angeles foster programs, a 500 percent increase compared to typical application numbers usually seen in this period.

“Bringing a new life into a home is an act of optimism,” said Judith Harbour, a licensed clinical social worker for the Animal Medical Center on East 62nd Street in Manhattan, pointing out that many animals in shelters need homes now. “So there is an idea that some people might have: I can do this good thing right now.”

A pet is also a way to wrestle control back into a life that feels unmoored. Our routine may be thrown, but dogs still need to be walked, fed, cleaned and nurtured. A pet’s schedule gets us out of bed and maybe even out of our pajamas and onto the street for some fresh air.

Compost sounds cool, but is it food safety safe

Twenty years ago, I sent one of my students to a big organic conference in Guelph, and requested that she ask one question: How do you know compost is microbiologically safe?

The answer was not convincing.

‘There’s so many good bacteria they out-compete the bad bacteria.’

Fairytale.

Ten years ago, I was visiting a colleague in Melbourne in his high-rise office and he said, see those crappy little houses down there with their crappy little backyard gardens, they provide the produce for Melbourne’s high-end restaurants, and it’s all fertilized with night soil’ (human shit).

A couple of days ago The Packer published a piece about composting food safety.

Doug Grant, who chairs the Center for Produce Safety’s Knowledge Transfer Task Force wrote that composting is a seemingly magical process that decomposes organic materials like green waste or animal manures through microbial fermentation, creating nutrient-rich amendments that can be added back to soils.

It’s not magical; it’s microbiological.

However, compost can also pose a risk to the food safety of fresh produce.

Animal manure is widely suspected to be a significant source of human pathogens. Cows can carry E. coli, while poultry and swine can carry Salmonella. If compost is made with manure containing such pathogens, and the composting process is not controlled properly, these pathogens can survive composting. Contaminated compost applied to fields can then cross-contaminate fresh produce that contacts amended soil during growth, irrigation or harvest.

Yes, we have over 20 years of evidence.

Gurmail Mudahar, Ph.D., is vice president of research and development and food safety at Tanimura & Antle and is a member of CPS’s technical committee and California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement’s (LGMA) advisory board. He reports that his company used to prepare and apply their own animal manure-based composts.  That changed when food safety emerged as a major leafy greens industry issue almost two decades ago.

Then Tanimura & Antle and other growers began buying compost only from specialized manufacturers to minimize produce safety hazards. 

At its simplest, composting is a manufacuring process. To produce compost safely, the most critical controls are high temperature and time held at that temperature. Over time, the heat generated by microbial respiration in turn reduces the compost’s microbial population, including any human pathogens present. 

As a general rule, compost temperatures must reach 131 degrees Fahrenheit or 55 degrees Celsius for 3-15 days, followed by a curing phase of least 21 days and preferably a few months. (Once applied to agricultural fields, pathogens continue to die off when exposed to sunlight’s ultraviolet rays, humidity, temperature, time and other factors.)

Use a thermometer and stick it in.

UK dad left paralyzed after developing suspected food poisoning on dream holiday

Cathy Owen of Wales Online writes a dad-of-three has been left paralysed after developing suspected food poisoning on a dream holiday to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary.

William Marsh, from Mountain Ash, was in a coma for 10 weeks and spent seven months in hospital after becoming ill on a holiday to the Dominican Republic with his wife Kathyrn two years ago.

The 57-year-old has been diagnosed with the rare condition Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious neurological condition which is a known complication from food poisoning.

He has now called on specialist serious injury lawyers to investigate his “devastating” ordeal.

William started suffering from stomach cramps and diarrhoea towards the end of a week-long all-inclusive at the Riu Naiboa resort which was booked to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary.

When he got back home to Wales, the symptoms continued and on the day he was due to return to work as an engineer he woke up to find he had no feeling in his legs.

That sensation then started to spread across his entire body and William was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

William said: “Kathryn and my daughter fell ill first and then it hit me. The symptoms were awful but we just tried to push through it. I needed to get myself to work, so I thought nothing of it really.

“But then I got a huge shock when I woke up one morning and couldn’t feel my legs.”

William was on a ventilator in Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil and after a long period of treatment he was able to return home. But his life has now changed massively.

Almost two years on from his diagnosis, the father-of-three still cannot walk and is essentially confined to his living room due to the extent of his needs. He has been unable to return to work.

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune condition affecting the peripheral nervous system.

Often triggered by a viral or bacterial infection such as flu or food poisoning, it causes the nerves in the arms and legs to become inflamed and stop working, usually leading to temporary paralysis which may last from a few days to many months.

An estimated 1,300 people (one to two people per 100,000) are affected by GBS annually in the UK. About 80 per cent will make a good recovery, but between five and 10 per cent of people will not survive and 10-15 per cent may experience long term residual effects ranging from limited mobility or dexterity, to life-long dependency on a wheelchair.

Organic basil recalled due to Cyclospora risk

I keep telling people that certain fresh herbs – like basil – are a ridiculously high percentage of foodborne illnesses.

They look at me like I just fell off the truck.

Sure, I walk with a cane now because I fall too much, but not off trucks.

United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) is initiating a voluntary recall of a limited quantity of Wild Harvest® Organic Basil distributed out of UNFI’s Hopkins, MN distribution center to select retailers in Minnesota between 4/18/2020-5/8/2020. UNFI’s recall is issued out of an abundance of caution because of the potential for the impacted product to be contaminated by Cyclospora cayetanensis. No illnesses, including allergic reactions, involving this product have been reported to date.

This recall includes Wild Harvest® Organic Fresh Basil products sold in .25oz, .75oz, 2oz, and 4oz plastic clam shell containers (UPCs: 0071153550450, 0071153550322, 0071153550762, 0071153550323). Impacted product can be identified by a white sticker with black ink on the back of the container stating: “Product of Colombia” and “112.”

This concern was identified following routine sampling. Cyclospora cayetanensis is a microscopic parasite that can cause an intestinal illness in people called cyclosporiasis. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the illness is usually not life threatening. Symptoms of cyclosporiasis may include: watery diarrhea (most common), loss of appetite, weight loss, cramping, bloating, increased gas, nausea and fatigue. Other symptoms that may occur but are less common include vomiting and low-grade fever.