Ebola Outbreak Increases Pressure to Start Vaccine Trials

The world’s worst outbreak of Ebola has killed close to 1,100 people in West Africa and the disease could continue spreading for months, increasing pressure on researchers to accelerate the development of therapeutic interventions.

Doctors without borders staff

Mad Cow Risk and Reasonable Precautions

A case of so-called “mad cow disease” was found in a California dairy cow last week. The disease, known to veterinary scientists as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is fatal, and can be transmitted from cow-to-cow or cow-to-human through the ingestion of contaminated tissue. There is no evidence BSE spreads to humans — the human form of the disorder is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — through drinking milk. As such, authorities claim that the infected animal (which is being held and will be destroyed) posed no risk to humans.

Dairy cows

Third Reported Recovery From Clinical Rabies in the U.S.

Rabies is a serious — almost always fatal — viral infection of the central nervous system. The virus is present in the saliva of infected mammals, and is most often spread via a bite wound. Raccoons, skunks, bats, foxes, and coyotes are the most common carriers of rabies in the United States, though any mammal, including domestic dogs and cats, can become infected and transmit the disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps statistics on rabies incidence in the U.S., and notes that cases are quite rare. Only one or two individuals a year become infected with the rabies virus, and prophylaxis (vaccination post-exposure, but prior to the development of symptoms) is almost always effective.


Activation of the Immune System and the Nobel Prize for Medicine

nobel medal in medicineThe 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was announced on Monday. The prize was awarded to three scientists for their work on the body’s immune system.

The prize of 10-million-Swedish-krona (US$1.5-million) was divided, one half jointly to Bruce A. Beutler, age 54, at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, and Jules A. Hoffmann, age 70, at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology in Strasbourg, for their discovery of receptor proteins that can recognize bacteria and other microorganisms and activate innate immunity, and the other half to Ralph M. Steinman, age 68, at Rockefeller University in New York, for his discovery of dendritic cells of the immune system and their unique capacity to activate and regulate adaptive immunity, the later stage of the immune response during which microorganisms are cleared from the body.

Lifetime Immunity From the Flu

Scientists report in the current issue of the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology the isolation of a group of high-affinity antibodies that are potent inhibitors of a wide range of influenza viruses, including the H5N1 avian flu, the 1918 Spanish flu and some seasonal strains [1]. The antibodies may someday be used to create a vaccine that provides lifetime immunity from the flu.

Seasonal flu hospitalizes an average of 226,000 people in the U.S. annually, killing 36,000 every year [2]. Influenza A viruses have been associated with an increasing number of deaths; from 1990 — 1999, the greatest mean number of flu deaths were associated with influenza A (H3N2) viruses [3]. Each season, between one quarter- and a half-million people die of influenza worldwide [4].