TIME infectious diseases

Liberia Closes Borders to Curb Ebola Outbreak

Outbreak is already the largest on record

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The Liberian government closed off most of the country’s border crossings Sunday in an effort to curb an Ebola outbreak that has already killed over 670 people across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone and become the largest outbreak of the virus on record.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the airport will remain open, but that all travelers coming in and out will be tested for the virus, Reuters reports. “All borders of Liberia will be closed with the exception of major entry points,” she said. “At these entry points, preventive and testing centers will be established, and stringent preventive measures to be announced will be scrupulously adhered to.”

Ebola kills around 90% of those who contract it, although the current outbreak has only killed around 60%. Numerous medical personnel have succumbed to the most recent outbreak, including Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of Liberia’s most high-profile doctors, who died Saturday.

Two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, have contracted the virus and are currently in stable condition, NBC reports. Both worked for North Carolina-based aid group Samaritan’s Purse, and spokeswoman Melissa Strickland said that they are both “alert.”

Brantly and Writebol had followed all CDC and WHO guidelines and worn full protective equipment when treating Ebola patients, including gloves, goggles, face protection, and full body coverings, Strickland said.

Since Ebola is highly contagious, Liberia has also restricted public gatherings such as marches and demonstrations until the outbreak is brought under control. “No doubt, the Ebola virus is a national health problem,” President Sirleaf said in a statement. “And as we have also begun to see, it attacks our way of life, with serious economic and social consequences.”

TIME infectious diseases

Ebola Virus Suspected in Lagos, Nigeria

Samples have been sent to the WHO for testing

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The deadly Ebola virus that has killed hundreds across West Africa may have hit Africa’s most populous city, according to a Thursday statement from the country’s ministry of health.

Officials in Lagos, Nigeria are testing a Liberian man after he collapsed at the city’s airport displaying symptoms of the disease. Government representatives also expressed concern because the man worked and lived in Liberia where the disease is prevalent. Blood samples have been sent to the World Health Organization to be tested.

The virus has spread rapidly since an outbreak earlier this year, and health organizations have said they are struggling to control its spread.

In a statement, Nigerian health officials asked that residents “remain calm and take appropriate measures for the prevention and control of the disease.” These prevention measures include avoiding contact with people or animals suspected of having the disease.

While the outbreak has killed hundreds already in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it could be especially damaging if it hit Lagos, an urban center with a population of 21 million.

TIME HIV

Researchers Find New Way to Kick Out HIV From Infected Cells

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1
Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 Getty Images

The technique addresses the problem of hidden reservoirs of HIV in the body, and could herald a new way of battling the viral infection

Once HIV invades the body, it doesn’t want to leave. Every strategy that scientists have developed or are developing so far to fight the virus – from powerful anti-HIV drugs to promising vaccines that target it – suffers from the same weakness. None can ferret out every last virus in the body, and HIV has a tendency to hide out, remaining inert for years, until it flares up again to cause disease.

None, that is, until now. Kamel Khalili, director of the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple University School of Medicine, and his colleagues took advantage of a new gene editing technique to splice the virus out of the cells they infected – essentially returning them to their pre-infection state. The strategy relies on detecting and binding HIV-related genetic material, and therefore represents the first anti-HIV platform that could find even the dormant virus sequestered in immune cells.

MORE: Treatment as Prevention: How the New Way to Control HIV Came to Be

Even more encouraging, they also used the system to arm healthy cells from getting infected in the first place, by building genetic blockades that bounced off HIV’s genetic material. “It’s what we call a sterilizing cure,” says Khalili.

His work was done on human cells infected with HIV in cell culture, but, he believes the results are robust enough to move into animal trials and eventually into testing the idea in human patients.

The key to the strategy is the gene editing technique known as CRISPR, a way of precisely cutting DNA at pre-specified locations. CRISPR acts as a customizable pair of molecular scissors that can be programmed to find certain sequences of DNA and then, using an enzyme, make cuts at those locations. Because HIV is a retrovirus, its genetic material comes in the form of RNA; the virus co-opts a host cell’s genetic machinery to transform that RNA into DNA, which it then inserts into the cell’s genome. HIV’s genes, which it needs to survive, then get churned out by the cell.

MORE: David Ho: The Man Who Could Beat AIDS

Khalili designed a CRISPR that recognized the beginning and end of HIV’s DNA contribution, and then watched as the enzyme snipped out HIV from the cell’s genome. “I’ve been working with HIV almost since day 1 [of the epidemic] and we have developed a number of molecules that can suppress transcription or diminish replication of the virus. But I have never seen this level or eradication,” he says. “When you remove the viral genes from the chromosomes, basically you convert the cells to their pre-infection state.”

The advantage of the system lies in the fact that CRISPR can recognize viral genes wherever they are – in infected cells that are actively dividing, and in infected cells in which the virus is dormant. Current drug-based strategies can only target cells that are actively dividing and releasing more HIV, which is why they often lead to periods of undetectable virus but then cause levels of HIV to rise again. That’s the case with the Mississippi baby, who was born HIV positive and given powerful anti-HIV drugs hours after birth and appeared to be functionally cured of HIV when the virus couldn’t be detected for nearly four years, but then returned.

MORE: Rethinking HIV: After Five Years of Debate, a New Push for Prevention

Khalili admits that more work needs to be done to validate the strategy, and ensure that it’s safe. But it’s the start, he says, of a potential strategy for eradicating the virus from infected individuals. That may involve excising the virus as well as bombarding it with anti-HIV drugs. “We can get into cells, eradicate the viral genome, and that’s it,” he says.

TIME infectious diseases

Scientists to Test Dogs and Cats for MERS Virus

Camels are thought to be the main carriers of the virus that has killed at least 200 people, mainly in Saudi Arabia, but researchers now believe other animals could also be spreading the infection

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) has killed around 200 people around the world since first being discovered in 2012. Though researchers believe the virus is carried in camels, the head researcher of a new study suggests other animal species such as dogs and cats could be carriers too.

Thomas Briese of Columbia University, in New York City, published a recent study that showed the respiratory virus infecting humans, mainly in Saudi Arabia, is the same as the one circulating in camels. However, the deaths of people who have never had any contact with camels leads him to believe other domesticated animals could also be carrying the virus, the BBC reports.

Goats and sheep have been tested but show no antibodies that indicate exposure. “The others that we are looking into or are trying to look into are cats, dogs where there is more intimate contact, and any other wild species we can get serum from that we are not currently getting,” he told the BBC.

Researchers will begin testing domestic dogs, cats and rats in the region in hopes of stopping the spread of MERS. Scientists have not yet developed a vaccine, and if they do, they will most likely use it on animal carriers like camels, not on humans.

[BBC]

TIME

Measles Vaccine Cures Woman Of Cancer

Cancer Measles Vaccine
Stephen Smith—Getty Images

Mayo Clinic researchers have wiped out a 49-year-old Minnesota woman’s blood cancer with a radical new virus-based treatment that involved injecting her with “the highest possible dose” of a measles vaccine, suggesting virotherapy could treat some cancers

The claim: Mayo Clinic researchers employing “virotherapy”—or virus-based treatment—completely eradicated a 49-year-old woman’s blood cancer using an extremely heavy dose of the measles vaccine (enough to vaccinate 100 million people), according to a newly released report in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The research: The study team injected two cancer patients with “the highest possible dose” of an engineered measles virus. (Past research had shown the virus was capable of killing myeloma-infected plasma cells while sparing normal tissue.) Both patients responded to the treatment and showed reductions in bone marrow cancer and myeloma protein. One of the patients, Stacy Erholtz, experienced complete remission and has been cancer-free for 6 months.

More From Prevention: Medical Tests That Can Save Your Life

What it means: This is the first study to show that this type of virotherapy may be effective when it comes to some types of cancers, says study coauthor Stephen Russell, MD, PhD, a Mayo Clinic hematologist and co-developer of the treatment. “Viruses naturally destroy tissue,” Russell explains. And the measles virus appears to cause cancer cells to group together and “explode,” which not only destroys them but also helps alert the patient’s immune system to their presence, says one of Russell’s coauthors on the study, Angela Dispenzieri, MD. While the second myeloma patient did not experience such a dramatic recovery, the virotherapy was still effective in targeting and treating sites of her tumor growth, the Mayo researchers say.

The bottom line: The two women included in the study were chosen because their cancer had failed to respond to other treatments, and so they were out of options, the study authors say. Also, neither of the women had much previous exposure to measles, which means they had few antibodies to the virus. While a lot more work has to be done to develop the treatment for other cancer sufferers, Russell says the ultimate goal for this therapy is “a single-shot cure for cancer.”

More from Prevention: 20 Ways To Lower Your Cancer Risk

The article was written by Markham Heid and originally appeared on Prevention.com

 

 

TIME infectious diseases

Egypt Reports First Case of MERS Virus

SAUDI-HEALTH-SARS-VIRUS
Saudi hospital employees wear mouth and nose masks as they stand outside the a local hospital's emergency department, on April 22, 2014 in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah. Egypt's Ministry of Health has confirmed that an Egyptian citizen who had recently returned from Saudi Arabia is infected with the virus. Stringer—AFP/Getty Images

As Saudi Arabia experiences a spike in the number of confirmed cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Egypt has now identified its first case of the often deadly virus: a man who was living in Saudi Arabia

Egypt has identified its first case of the often deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus, the country’s health ministry announced on state media Saturday.

The 27-year-old patient, who is in stable condition at a Cairo hospital, had been living in Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports.

With more 313 confirmed infections, Saudi Arabia has been hit the hardest by the virus, which can cause fever, coughing and pneumonia and has more than a 40 percent death rate among confirmed cases.

Although the number of MERS patients worldwide is relatively small, the recent, rapid spread of the virus within Saudi Arabia has concerned health workers.

Scientists are unsure of the virus’ exact origins but believe it may have spread from camels. The virus does not spread as quickly as the similar SARS virus and could die out on its own, but scientists warn it could also mutate into something more easily spread, especially as millions of Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca later this year.

[Reuters]

TIME Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Confirms 20 New Cases of Deadly MERS Virus

SAUDI-HEALTH-MERS-VIRUS
Saudi medical staff leave the emergency department at a hospital in the center of Riyadh on April 8, 2014 Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

About 49 people have been infected in the past six days by the incurable Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, which has claimed 76 lives in Saudi Arabia. The country's Health Minister said he did not know the cause of the sudden rise in cases

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry this weekend confirmed 20 new cases of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. All told, the MERS virus has infected 244 people in Saudi Arabia, with 49 confirmed cases in the past six days alone.

Of the 244 infected people in total, 76 have died, Reuters reports. MERS has no known cure and kills approximately a third of the people it infects.

Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabia said on Sunday he did not know the cause of the sudden rise in cases. He said there was no current need for extra precautionary measures like travel restrictions.

Authorities say the disease, which scientists have linked to camels and is similar to the SARS virus, does not spread easily from person to person and could die out on its own. However, some experts have warned that the virus could mutate, allowing for easier human-to-human transmission.

[Reuters]

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