TIME Infectious Disease

Deadly Stomach Bug Infects About Half a Million in U.S. Each Year, Study Shows

Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, was linked to 27,000 deaths last year

Nearly half a million Americans are infected by a deadly stomach bug every year, according to a recent report.

A study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that an estimated 453,000 cases of Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, infection in the United States in 2011, which resulted in 29,000 deaths. That’s almost double prior infection estimates.

C. diff bacteria release toxins that drugs can’t fight; those infected usually contract it from hospitals or health care related settings, though sickness typically occurs after one leaves the hospital. A new, more severe strain of the bacteria was discovered in 2000. Ordinary antibiotics and hand sanitizers are considered no match for the bug, which causes severe diarrhea, inflammation and sepsis.

The CDC says that soap and water are essential to stopping its spread, NBC News reports. The Department of Health and Human Services will begin punishing hospitals that fail to reduce rates of C. diff in their facilities by 2017.

Read next: Measles Outbreak in U.S. Tops 150 Cases

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Measles Outbreak in U.S. Tops 150 Cases

A single dose of MMR for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella at Kaiser Permanente East Medical offices on Feb. 3, 2015 in Denver, CO.
Joe Amon—Denver Post via Getty Images A single dose of MMR for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella at Kaiser Permanente East Medical offices on Feb. 3, 2015 in Denver, CO.

Most people with the disease are not vaccinated

The number of measles cases in the U.S. has reached 154, according to new numbers released Monday.

Between Jan. 1 to Feb. 20, more than 150 cases in 17 different states have been reported to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of these cases are tied to an outbreak linked to Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, Calif.

Some have blamed the latest outbreak on parents who don’t vaccinate their children for measles — or anti-vaxxers — and the CDC reports that the majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated. Travelers from other parts of the world where the disease is still prevalent could also be bringing it into the U.S., the CDC said.

There are currently three simultaneous outbreaks of the virus, the largest connected to Disneyland and the other two in Illinois and Nevada. In 2014, the U.S. experienced a major outbreak of measles that totaled 383 cases and was primarily spreading among an unvaccinated Amish community in Ohio.

Two doses of the measles vaccine (MMR) are nearly 100% effective at preventing the disease, which is highly contagious. The CDC recommends all children get their first dose of the vaccine at ages 12 through 15 months and the second dose at ages 4 to 6.

TIME Infectious Disease

New Killer Virus Found in Kansas

They're calling it Bourbon virus

Scientists are reporting on a new virus, never seen before anywhere, that apparently killed a Kansas man last year.

They’re calling it Bourbon virus, after the county in Kansas where the previously healthy man lived. He’d been bitten by ticks before he got sick so doctors believe the virus is carried by ticks.

“We were not looking for a new virus,” said Charles Hunt, Kansas state epidemiologist, who helped report on the new virus.

“We are surprised. We really don’t know much about this virus. It’s important to find out more from a public health perspective. It is possible that other persons have been infected with this and not known it?”…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Infectious Disease

What You Need to Know About the California ‘Superbug’

The CRE bacteria kills up to half of infected patients

A Los Angeles hospital revealed Wednesday that more than 100 patients may have been exposed to a deadly “superbug” while being treated at the facility between October and January. Two have been reported dead already at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the hospital announced Wednesday.

So what is the ominous-sounding bacteria, and just how dangerous is it? Here’s a quick guide:

What is this “superbug”?
The term superbug refers to microbes that have become resistant to the antibiotics typically used to treat bacterial infections. In the most recent case, in Los Angeles, the term refers to the bacteria called Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Once the antibiotic-resistant bacteria gets into the bloodstream or bladder, it causes infections that are difficult to stop. It also transfers its anti-biotic resistant properties to other germs so they can also resist medicine.

How do you catch it?
CRE infection typically occurs in hospitals or other medical care facilities. This is largely because its spread requires close contact between the bacteria and a vulnerable part of the body, something like an open wound. In the most recent case, as in others in the past, patients were infected due to medical instruments that were improperly sanitized.

How deadly is it?
Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called it a “nightmare bacteria” in 2012, and with good reason—it kills up to half of infected patients.

Read more: New Antibiotic Could Help Fight ‘Superbugs’ of the Future

How is it treated?
Doctors can try some antibiotics that may still work despite CRE’s resistance, but it can be difficult to treat, sometimes impossible.

How can it be kept from spreading?
The CDC provides health care facilities with more than 30 pages of guidelines on how to prevent CRE from spreading. Separating patients with CRE from other patients, tracking CRE patients’ movements between hospitals and strong enforcement of protocols to prevent the spread of infection count among the report’s most important recommendations.

Should I be worried about other superbugs?
You probably should, yes. CRE is one of a number of antibiotic resistant bacteria that pose a serious public health concern. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), for example, kills about 64% more people than those infected with a non-resistant form of the disease. A 2014 study projected that, if governments worldwide don’t act, “superbugs” could kill an extra 10 million people a year by 2050 — making them deadlier than cancer.


Scientists Find a Way to Block HIV from Infecting Healthy Cells

Getty Images HIV viruses infecting a human immune cell

Researchers overcome a major hurdle in developing the ultimate protection against HIV

Reporting in the journal Nature, scientists describe a new way to potentially block HIV from infiltrating healthy cells. Such interference is key to protecting people from HIV infection, but most efforts so far haven’t been successful.

This time, however, may be different. Michael Farzan, professor of infectious diseases at Scripps Research Institute, and his team used a gene therapy technique to introduce a specific HIV disruptor that acted like gum on HIV’s keys. Once stuck on the virus’s surface, the peptide complex prevents HIV from slipping into the molecular locks on healthy cells. Because the gum isn’t picky about which HIV strain it sticks to—as long as it’s HIV—the strategy works against all of the strains Farzan’s group tested in the lab, including both HIV-1 and HIV-2 versions that transmit among people, as well as simian versions that infect monkeys. In lab dishes containing the virus and human and animal cells, the disruptor managed to neutralize 100% of the virus, meaning it protected the cells from getting infected at all.

MORE: The End of AIDS

The strategy is based on what HIV experts know about how the virus infects healthy cells. HIV looks for a protein, or receptor on immune cells called CD4, which serves as the lock, and uses a specially designed portion of its own viral coat made up of three proteins as the key. Once HIV finds its target and the match is made, the virus changes its shape to better slip inside the healthy cell, where it takes over the cell’s machinery and churns out more copies of itself. Farzan’s gum, called eCD4-Ig, not only seeks out these parts of the key and renders them useless, but by glomming onto the key, also causes the virus to morph prematurely in search of its lock. Once in lock-finding mode, the virus can’t return to its previous state and therefore is no longer infectious.

The encouraging results suggest that eCD4-Ig could provide long-term protection against HIV infection, like a vaccine; in four monkeys treated with gene therapy to receive eCD4-Ig, none became infected with HIV even after several attempts to infect them with the virus. The protection also seems to be long-lasting. So far, the treated monkeys have survived more than a year despite being exposed to HIV, while untreated control monkeys have died after getting infected.

MORE: This Contraceptive Is Linked to a Higher Risk of HIV

The strategy, while promising, is still many steps away from being tested in people. Farzan used a cold virus to introduce the eCD4-Ig complex directly into the muscle of the animals, and it’s not clear whether this will be best strategy for people. Previous gene therapy methods have led to safety issues, and concerns have been raised about controlling where and how much of the introduced material gets deposited in the body. It may also be possible to give the peptide as an injection every few years to maintain its anti-HIV effect.

MORE: HIV Treatment Works, Says CDC

Farzan anticipates that if proven safe, the strategy could help both infected patients keep levels of HIV down, as well as protect uninfected, high-risk individuals from getting infected. But many more tests will need to be done before we might see those results. Four monkeys can provide valuable information, but can’t answer questions about safety and efficacy with any confidence. “Things change when we get to humans and when we get to larger numbers,” he says. “But the data in monkeys are as encouraging as one could hope.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Disneyland Asked California to Say Park Was Safe During Measles Outbreak, Report Says

Visitors walk towards the Sleeping Beauty Castle during a visit to the Disneyland Paris Resort run by EuroDisney S.C.A in Marne-la-Vallee on Jan. 21, 2015.
Gonzalo Fuentes—Reuters Visitors walk towards the Sleeping Beauty Castle during a visit to the Disneyland Paris Resort run by EuroDisney S.C.A in Marne-la-Vallee on Jan. 21, 2015.

The AP reports Disneyland officials sent emails to officials about language to use when talking about the park, outbreak

Disneyland asked California officials to reassure the public that the amusement park was safe to attend amid the measles outbreak that started there in December, according to a new report.

The Associated Press, citing documents obtained, reports that Disneyland officials sent a series of emails to the California Department of Health and the Orange County Health Care Agency, asking the agencies to make it clear to the public that the park was not responsible for the outbreak, and that vaccinated people could still visit. Six Disneyland employees were among 70 people in California infected during an outbreak that has passed 100 cases in the U.S.

A Disneyland spokeswoman told the AP the park was in contact with health officials “in order to ensure that factual and accurate information flowed both ways to avoid confusion and properly inform the public.”

Read more at the Associated Press

TIME Infectious Disease

Rumored ‘Measles Parties’ Elicit a Warning in California

Measles Outbreaks Spread In U.S.
CDC/Getty Images A thin-section transmission electron micrograph (TEM) reveals the ultrastructural appearance of a single virus particle, or "virion", of measles virus.

Health department “strongly recommends against the intentional exposure of children to measles"

Parents who are fearful of vaccines should not intentionally expose their children to the measles, California health officials warned Monday, amid rumors of “measles parties” in local media.

The California Department of Health said it “strongly recommends against the intentional exposure of children to measles. It unnecessarily places the exposed children at potentially grave risk and could contribute to further spread.”

No known “measles parties” have been thrown to date, but the expression started cropping up in local media reports after a San Francisco radio station reported that a local mother had offered to arrange a play date between sick and healthy children.

Officials have confirmed 59 cases of the measles across the state, 42 of which have spread through Disney theme parks.

TIME Infectious Disease

Georgia Gets First Case of Measles in 3 Years

National case numbers reach over 120

Georgia’s Department of Public Health confirmed on Monday that the state has its first case of measles since 2012.

An infant who traveled to Atlanta from outside the country is now being treated for the disease at Egleston Hospital at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA).

State officials, the hospital, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Prevention (CDC) are working together to identify other people who may have been exposed to the disease.

According to the health department, over 98% of incoming kindergarteners in the state have received all their school-mandated shots, including the full two doses of the measles vaccine.

New numbers released by the CDC on Monday show there are currently 121 cases of measles from 17 states, an outbreak which reportedly began at a Disneyland resort in southern California.

“We don’t need to be alarmists. We need to be aware,” said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of Health Protection at the Georgia Department of Public Health said in a statement. “What happened in Disneyland is an alert that we live in a world now in which international travel is very common and frequent, and diseases are only hours away.”


TIME Infectious Disease

Nearly One in Ten Americans Think Vaccines Are Unsafe

TIME.com stock photos Health Syringe Needle
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

The results of poll released Monday are "very discouraging" says one doctor

Almost one in 10 Americans believe vaccines for diseases including measles, mumps and rubella are not safe for healthy children, indicating a significant number of Americans have misconceptions about the danger of vaccinations.

Skepticism with vaccines crosses party and demographic lines, according to the Pew Research Center study released Monday, with about 5% of Republicans and 9% of Democrats saying vaccines are unsafe, and 11% of men and 8% of women saying the same.

Younger people, however, were significantly more likely to believe vaccines are unsafe, with 15% of Americans aged 18-29 saying vaccines aren’t safe, compared with just 4% of Americans over age 65.

A total of 121 cases of the measles have been reported after a recent outbreak that began in Disneyland, California. The disease has now spread to 17 states and Washington D.C., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Doctors are blaming the outbreak on a large number of parents who believe vaccines can cause autism or other health complications, and therefore choose not to vaccinate their children.

The results of the Pew study are “very discouraging,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist at the center for health security at the University of Pittsburgh, citing the near-total eradication of polio, smallpox and other deadly diseases by vaccines as evidence of vaccinations’ efficacy.

“For people still to believe vaccines are unsafe—despite all the evidence—is really frustrating,” Adalja said. “It shows the task we have ahead of us will be very difficult.”

If a large enough percentage of children don’t get vaccines, it leaves even children who do get vaccines at risk. Experts recommend that 92-95% of Americans get vaccinated against measles to reach “herd immunity” to protect everyone in a particular community, reports the Guardian. Current vaccination rates in the U.S. hover around 91%.

A 1998 study claimed to show a link between autism and vaccines, but the study has long been discredited. Two decades of research have shown vaccines do not cause autism or other side effects in healthy children.

The percentage of Americans who believe vaccines are unsafe does appear to be falling, however. A 2011 poll showed that 18% of Americans believe that vaccines can cause autism.

Director of political research at Pew Research Center Carroll Doherty said that many of the misconceptions about the safety of vaccines appear to come from ignorance of the science behind inoculations, particularly among those who aren’t aware of the recent outbreak.

“People who haven’t been following this debate, they are very high in either saying they’re not safe, or they don’t know,” Doherty said.

TIME Infectious Disease

HPV Vaccine Doesn’t Make Teen Girls More Promiscuous, Study Finds

HPV Vaccinations Back In Spotlight After Perry Joins Presidential Race
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Girls who get vaccinated are not at a greater risk for STIs

Getting a vaccine to protect against the sexually-transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV) does not increase the risk that young women will be sexually promiscuous and get more STIs, a new study says.

In the study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, 21,000 U.S. girls who received an HPV vaccine were compared to 186,000 who were unvaccinated. The girls lived in the same region of the U.S. and had the same insurance plans. The researchers measured the rate of STIs before the girls were vaccinated and monitored their rate of STI infections for a year afterward.

The results showed that while the vaccinated girls did have a slightly higher rate of STIs before and after their vaccine, the researchers suggest that it could be due to the fact that girls who opt for the vaccine may already be sexually active.

However, the researchers found that the rate of STIs overall were equal among the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups. The researchers concluded that this means the vaccine itself does not change sexual activity or behavior.

“If providing girls with the HPV vaccine caused an increase in risky sexual behavior, we would expect to have seen a steeper increase in STI rates in the quarters following administration of the vaccine,” said study co-author Seth Seabury, an associate professor of research at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in a statement. “We found no such increase, causing us to conclude that there was no association between using the vaccine and unsafe sexual practices.”

Currently, the rate of HPV vaccination in the United States is low. The most recent numbers show that only 57% of adolescent girls and about 35% of adolescent boys get at least one dose of the vaccine. Only 38% of adolescent girls have received all three recommended doses needed for full immunity, the study says. HPV has been linked to various types of cancer, including cervical and penile.

One of the primary reasons parents may feel uneasy getting their daughters (and sons) vaccinated is a perception that the vaccine will lead to increased sexual activity among the adolescents who get it. A majority of parents believe consent should be given before their children are vaccinated.

But that concern is not supported by evidence, and this new study adds to existing data that HPV vaccines are safe and not linked to changes in sexual behavior.

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