Friday, November 30, 2007

RSV: A Common Danger to Infants and Children

Keeping our children safe should be our first concern, especially when it comes to viruses. One of the most common causes of human disease are severe viral infections. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a threatening cause of lower respiratory infection in infants and young children.

RSV is a negative sense, single stranded RNA virus from the family Paramyxoviridae and of the sub family Pneumovirinae. The virion has an envelope with two specific glycoproteins, and can vary in shape and size. The two glycoproteins that are virally specific are G and F. G is in charge of binding the virus to a host cell, and F for fusing the viral envelope with the host cell’s plasma membrane, so the virus can enter. The F protein also was helpful in naming the virus because it also stimulates the fusion of the plasma membranes of the infected cells. The outcome is the formation of a “sanctum or multinucleated mass of fused cells“. The multinucleated syncytia causes inflammation, alveolar thickening, and the filling of the alveolar spaces with fluid.
It is a major cause of respiratory illness in infants and it causes infection in the lungs and in breathing passages. It is highly contagious, and hard to differentiate from the common cold, especially in healthy infants. It is brutal because you can never be immune to it even when you get infected. You can become infected several times, even within the same season.
No vaccine exists but infants who are have a weak immune systems or were born prematurely can receive monthly injections. A type of Prophylactic drug uses Palivizumab which are a type of monoclonal Antibody directed against the RSV proteins. These monthly injections are to be taken just before the RSV season ( from fall to spring) starts and for continued for about five months.
It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis, and pneumonia among infants. For those children who are immunocompromised this virus can lead to severe respiratory illness requiring hospitalization, and sometimes even death. This is because infant lungs cannot compensate for the decreased oxygen flow.
Symptoms include fever, cough, rhinitis, and nasal congestion. Others are listlessness, poor or diminished appetite.
It is easy to contract this virus, to prevent exposure of your child may be difficult because it is so widespread but some common safe practices are always a good precaution. Washing your hands and keeping your environment clean. The virus becomes inactivated the soap and water and disinfectants and it can only survive a few hours in the environment by itself. So try to stay away from infected persons.
If you infant is a regular healthy child then treatment may just include keeping your infant or child hydrated with plenty of fluids and oxygen, and keep the air moist with a cool mist vaporizer. And as an extra precaution do not give your infant aspirin while they are having any of these symptoms because it can lead to Reye’s syndrome.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


                                            Picture From .. Google Images

In the summer of 2006 my friend and I were getting set to do some travelling on Vancouver Island. While the lure of Vancouver's beauty was compelling I have to admit that the promise of fresh luscious seafood was something we were both looking forward to immensely.

Our first dinner out of town was in a snug comfortable marina on the coast. Upon being seated, to our dismay we were told that there was no scallops or oysters for us to dine on. The waiter explained that there was a red tide alert on the West Coast, an outbreak of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) was reported on the CBC news, and the only seafood that was not affected by these toxins were crab and shrimp. I swallowed my disappointment and proceeded to do justice to a large plate of shrimp and crab. After dinner my curiosity got the better of me and I went off to my room to do some research.

When certain algae go through their growth period, or bloom, "a single cell may replicate itself one million times in two to three weeks", reported the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. The algae captures and uses the sun's energy to grow. The growth of algae is an essential life process as it is the first step in transferring solar energy into aquatic food webs. These organisms thrive and multiply primarily during the Spring and Summer in response to the intensity from the sun and nutrients in the ocean water. During bloom reproduction the shallow warm sea water becomes discoloured as a result of various plant pigments used to trap sunlight. Depending on the species the water will reflect many colours including yellow, pink, violet, green, brown, however red is the most common pigment. This is how the name "Red Tide" is obtained.

When the water cools, the red tide can assume its dormant form where preformed cysts fall and accumulate on the ocean floor. Then later when the water is warmer and the sunlight is present, these cysts can germinate causing them to burst open and release swimmer cells into the ocean. These swimmer cells make their way into the marine life and their toxins are stored in the intestinal tracts and guts of most commonly oysters, muscles, clams and scallops.

So this is why I couldn't enjoy oysters on my vacation...interesting!

The most common of the harmful blooms is Alexandrium, which causes PSP via saxitoxin. Saxitoxin is a term used to include up to forty known toxins which disrupt the proper function of ion channels in neurons, which can lead to paralyzes of the respiratory system, and in worst cases death.

Global warming and pollution are on the rise and so is red tide. Not everyone enjoys fresh seafood but the impact of red tide is far more severe than not being able to eat seafood. What are we doing globally to stop these outbreaks? Who's jobs are at risk? Is the research being done? What are the findings? These questions and more must be brought to the forefront of government agencies worldwide. For myself, its not just about oysters anymore.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone doing research in this area or who has any knowledge or experience with red tides they can share with me.

Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Washington Sea Grant Program

Poisonous Toilet

An inconceivable volume of sewage, over 37.8 billion litres with a raw discharge of 34.2 billion litres, is generated by the CRD (Capital Regional District) annually. Currently, Victoria has a major issue with the way sewage is processed and disposed of through the Clover Point and Macaulay Point pump stations. Until recently, numerous reports regarding the implementation of further processing facilities have been ignored. Some think processing facilities will hamper the beauty of the city; yet, from another perspective, these plants represent what Victoria should be: a steward of the environment. Implementing change in sewage treatment is necessary for the environment as well as for the way Victoria is viewed by other nations.

As we have seen, sewage is a potentially dangerous substance and must be handled properly. It is considered a variable liquid mixture and is composed of various materials: human waste, wash water, general urban rainfall run-off, surplus manufactured liquids from domestic sources, as well as industrial cooling and processing waters. Approximately 95% is water with the remainder consisting of bacteria, organic particles, inorganic particles, animals, macro-solids, gases, emulsions and toxins. In order to contain these waste products, prior to discharge into the ocean, treatment facilities are required. Sewage treatment is the process that removes the majority of the contaminants from wastewater or sewage and produces a liquid effluent, suitable for disposal to the natural environment, and a toxic sludge. There are three stages of treatment and currently the CRD pumps raw sewage directly into the ocean using only primary treatment.

The receiving waters are the Strait of Juan de Fuca primarily, and the Strait of Georgia. These vast bodies of water, through agitation and current, are expected to be the sewage treatment facilities for Victoria and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As seen by underwater photography, there is an area of polluting waste the size of Beacon Hill Park and as tall as B.C. Place at the end of the Clover Point outfall. From this site sewage plumes can be detected up to eight months of the year. The toxins in sewage go further than just polluting the local beaches; they integrate their way into the health of our families, the environment, and the local economy. In the article on a website called, Jennifer McLarty of Victoria News states ,”Using CRD samples taken from outfalls at Macaulay and Clover points between 2000 and 2003, Sierra Legal biologists discovered 19 out of 29 provincially monitored substances were present and that they exceeded legislated limits. The list of potentially harmful chemicals includes mercury, lead, copper and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons…” (1). Many of these toxic substances are bioaccumulants and contribute to biomagnification. These pollutants drastically affect benthic animals and organisms, and as a result the effluent is damaging shellfish populations: bylaws against harvesting have been established. Not only is primary treatment insufficient, “approximately 200-300 million litres of overflows and by-passes occur during moderate to heavy rainfall events.” (2). These numbers are staggering and treatment must be implemented immediately so these bodies of water do not turn into another one of the worlds “dead zones”.

In 2003, the CRD expanded its regional source control program. The program was implemented to control the amount of toxic waste introduced to the system from sources such as industrial, commercial, or residential sites. This is a move in the right direction; unfortunately, the main concern is the overall outfall produced by Victoria. Reports from the previous federal environment minister, former Victoria MP David Anderson, say there is no scientific evidence of the need for treatment. Furthermore, B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner, who had refused to commit money for sewage treatment in Greater Victoria, has recently defended the practice of pumping screened sewage into the ocean; he said that "science" would determine when the region would treat its sewage, not politics. Unfortunately, this “science” experiment is impossible to measure and does not have the proper means of composting. According to Dr. Ishiguro, Professor of the Microbiology Department at the University of Victoria, “ [First] we do not know where our sewage is going; [second] we do not know what is happening to it; and [last] we do not know how much “fertilizer” our waters will take… It is essential to understand that the breakdown of organic matter in any composting system, and this includes secondary storage treatment, is carried out by the metabolic activities of a complex community of organisms”(3). In addition, the areas used as control sites to measure and compare the effects of sewage on the environment are partially contaminated. Based on the 25 year LWMP (liquid waste management plan) no commitment to upgrade treatment levels at the main plants had been addressed and no discernable infrastructure changes had been made since 1999. Only recently has the LWMP been revised and progress is under way. Regrettably, Victoria was the only candidate amongst 22 cities in B.C. to get suspended from the National Sewage Report Card produced by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

Many cities around the world utilize their waste efficiently. These countries have national standards for sewage treatment and have devised ways of harnessing the byproducts of waste management. Methane is a common product of sewage decomposition by anaerobic digestion (the breakdown of organic matter without the presence of oxygen). Since most sewage is capable of this, a remarkable alternative to flushing sewage directly into the ocean is Biofuel. In addition, other biomass products can be used for agriculture. As well as harnessing the gas emissions, the heavy metals extracted from the waste are profitable commodities; thus, the profits from these renewable resources will have a significant impact on the costs of operation of treatment facilities. The CRD has already begun to lessen the impacts due to sewage run off, Leachate from the Hartland Landfill and Recycling Area used to run untreated into the sewage and surrounding areas. Techniques to harness renewable energy produced by the byproducts of decomposition have been implemented. As a result, the environmental impact this facility has had on surrounding ecosystems is slowly being restored: a difficult task. Therefore, applying certain methods, as long as it is not to late, Victoria has the ability to reverse the severe damage done to the ocean due to untreated sewage. Mr. Floatie and friends have made a video called "Mr. Floatie Pushes for Poo Power" to promote resource recovery sewage treatment for the CRD!

I never understood the crude saying, “Flush twice, send water to the States”, but now the meaning is as clear as sewer can be.


1. Victoria News. “Enviro group say CRD data confirms pollution.” ecobc. 19 Nov. 2005.
< >. (20 Nov. 2007).

2. Sierra Legal Defence Fund. 2004. The national sewage report card (Number three): Grading the Sewage Treatment of 22 Canadian cities.
3. TBuck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. 2005. Victoria Sewage: Separating Myth from Fact.
< Sewage% 20Forum %20Final.pdf >.
(20 Nov. 2007).

Cancer-Killing Vaccinia Virus

Researchers at Stanford University and David Kirn at Jennerex Biotherapeutics in San Francisco, California have engineered the vaccinia virus into a cancer killing machine, called JX-594. The virus was engineered from the vaccinia virus (cousin of smallpox) and spreads more easily within cancer tumours thanks to a 'tail' composed of actin, and it is believed that it will be safe for human use.

Viral genes were deleted in order to restrict virus replication to cancer cells (deletions in the viral thymidine kinase (TK) and vaccinia growth factor (VGF) ). Without thymidine kinase, the virus cannot replicate and cause damage in normal, healthy tissue. The resulting virus infects cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

In addition, the researchers also spliced a gene (human GM-CSF) into the virus that makes it produce granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), which induces the body’s own immune system to recognize and attack tumor cells by releasing white blood cells. After the virus has destroyed most of the tumors, it stimulates an elevated immune system response, that will mop up remaining cancer cells.

Beginning in July 2006 researchers started treating 13 patients with advanced liver cancer by administering the JX-594 virus directly into the subjects' tumours every three weeks. According to Kirn, the patients entering this trial had a poor prognosis – all previous therapies had failed, and they had an expected survival of only three to four months. He says that the JX-594 treatment seemed to slow the progression of the disease in this small group of patients: seven of the participants survived for more than eight months, of whom three are still alive today, over 15 months later

In a newly published paper appearing in the Journal Clinical Investigation, another modified vaccinia virus called JX-963 was developed, which is a nearly identical virus to JX-594, and reduced liver tumour growth in rabbits. More than 80% of the animals treated with the JX-963 showed a greater than 50% reduction in tumour size. Based on the positive results from the preliminary clinical trial and recent animal experiments, Kirn says his team will conduct phase II trials to see whether the JX-594 virus can help treat other types of tumours, such as head and neck cancers. Human trials are expected to begin early next year.


Journal reference: Journal of Clinical Investigation: Rational strain selection and engineering creates a broad-spectrum, systemically effective oncolytic poxvirus, JX-963 (
Image from

Tetanus Antitoxin

The other day at work I had a revelation. Either I had never sold tetanus antitoxin or I had never really put two and two together until taking this course. The idea that we actually become ill, not from the bacteria itself, but from the toxins they produce, has stuck in my mind ever since the famous “egg salad sandwich” class. So, when I dispensed tetanus antitoxin for a horse that had been castrated the previous day, it got me thinking….

Tetanus is a disease caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani, which can be found in hospitals, dust, the feces and intestinal tract of horses and humans, and consequently found in the soil. It can contaminate many kinds of wounds, including the umbilici of foals and surgical incisions (Ah ha!).

An often fatal disease, tetanus is one of those illnesses that horses are most susceptible to and should be vaccinated for annually. The vaccine, called tetanus toxoid, is very safe and induces long-lasting immunity. Vaccination is the only proven method of prevention against diseases like tetanus, where there is no known cure and where treatment is usually unsuccessful. Side effects from the tetanus toxoid vaccine are very rare and should be outweighed by the benefits of vaccinating.

Clostridium tetani enters the body via a variety of different types of wounds, surgical incisions, and natural means including foal umbilici and retained placenta. After entrance, the bacteria emit powerful toxins that affect the central nervous system by blocking neurotransmission, and thus inducing involuntary muscle contractions and spasms. The first symptoms to occur include paralysis of the jaw muscles and the muscles around the wound, body spasms or convulsions, stiff legged movement and pricked ears, progressing on to muscles so rigid that the horse often falls and is not able to get up again. Death results from dehydration and starvation due to paralysis and/or from respiratory muscle paralysis. On average, the incubation period for tetanus is 8 days. However, bacterial spores can remain dormant in muscle tissue until trauma produces the much desired low oxygen environment.

If a horse has never been vaccinated against tetanus and there is a possibility for Clostridium tetani to enter the body (like the horse that had just been castrated), tetanus antitoxin should be administered along with the tetanus toxoid to prevent infection at a later date. The antitoxin is an antibody capable of neutralizing a toxin (Clostridium tetani toxin). It induces short-lived (about 2-3 weeks) but immediate protection against tetanus. Made from the blood of horses that have been repeatedly injected with large amounts of Clostridium tetani toxin, the antitoxin is considered a treatment, not a vaccine as it does not provide any long term protection. Therefore, when an unvaccinated animal sustains a wound, the antitoxin should be administered as protection for the first few weeks while the tetanus toxoid takes time to stimulate long term immunity (approximately 3-4 weeks).

Vaccine protocols should also be followed for humans, especially when working closely with horses. It is recommended that the human tetanus vaccine be updated every 10 years. However, even with antitoxin, there is still no 100% guarantee and proper, preventive care should still be taken when treating open wounds, both human and horse.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gene Therapy -- A Possible Cure for Blindness

Every now and then I come across an article or hear a story on the news that makes me take a step back and realize how incredibly far the science of genetics has come. As of May 1, 2007, testing for a gene therapy treatment has begun that may lead to a cure for a type of blindness in humans called Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA). LCA is described as “a type of inherited childhood blindness caused by a single abnormal gene [which] prevents the retina from detecting light properly, resulting in progressive deterioration and severely impaired eyesight.” Clinical testing in humans comes as a result of the amazing success of the treatment in dogs born with LCA. After treatment the dogs recovered enough sight to successfully navigate an obstacle course!

So, how does gene therapy work? As we all know by now, proteins and enzymes are the major players in every biological process occurring in our body. Genes are the code for creating these proteins, and when a certain gene is mutated or lacking, a genetic disorder can result. Specifically, LCA results from mutations in the RPE65 gene which codes for a protein needed by retinal cells in order to respond to light.

Gene therapy relies on the tricky nature of the virus. Viruses are capable of inserting their genome into the genome of the host which they are infecting. Scientists are able to modify the virus, (or “vector” when used in this capacity) removing harmful disease causing genes and replacing them with therapeutic genes. The virus can then be introduced to target cells where they infect and insert the desired gene. In the case of LCA, an adeno-associated virus is modified to carry the RPE65 gene. The vector is then injected through small incisions in the eye which allow access to the surface of the retina. Here the retinal cells can incorporate the viral genome into their own and begin producing the lacking protein.

The success of this treatment in humans is still unknown as trials are still in the works, but based on the success of the treatment in dogs, I think it is safe to get a little excited about the prospects of this therapy!


Image courtesy of :

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

H5N1: Avian Bird Flu, are we prepared for a pandemic?

A few weeks ago on the BBC they showed a segment on a recent out break of the H5N1 strain of Avian Bird Flu, which had become recently prevalent in turkeys in the UK. It was noticed due to swelling of the turkeys heads' and a blue discoloration on the neck. A 3km danger zone and 10km surveillance zone was set up. The farmers and Food Standard Agency are not otherwise worried about this outbreak because it is not believed to be easily transferred to humans, unless one comes into close contact with the turkey itself. They are taking precaution by keeping the believed unaffected turkeys inside and kept a close watch on for symptoms. However, they may be over looking fecal matter and saliva of the turkeys, which can get into irrigation systems and fertilizers. Also, the virus is easily and quickly transferred from human to human. So, as soon as one person becomes infected it could mean the beginning of a pandemic. The situation could be prevented if it was immediately addressed and the person was put in isolation. The Food Standard Agency does not seem to be too concerned and are just telling people to “cook their meat well.” This could be in an attempt to protect the turkey farmers from plummeting sales as Christmas season approaches.

While Food Standard Agency is saying this Avian Flu outbreak is nothing to be worried about Britain is doubling their antiviral medicine in preparation for a pandemic, stalk piling their resources of Tamiflu. Tamiflu is a “key defence against pandemic flu in the weeks it would to take to develop a vaccine against the culprit virus (BBC Health, Mr. Johnson).” It is an antiviral drug which reduces the length and intensity of the illness. Some scientists believe that the possible flu pandemic could be caused by the bird flu, which has been prevalent in the past months in some regions of the UK. If only a few people do contract the virus it can spread quickly and also mutates at a very high rate, making it difficult to trigger the “culprit virus.” Unfortunately our current influenza vaccination does not protect against the H5N1 stain. It protects against H1N1, H3N2 and B influenza strains. However, each year the shot immunizes against different strains, which could give you a little extra boost in immunity against other strains which may become present. This is a bit of a shot in the dark but may help out when life threatening strains are introduced into the human population. A vaccination for H5N1 is being tested at the moment but is not ready to be available to the public. It is a scary to think that a flu pandemic could occur but thankfully there has not been many human cases thus far. Giving the science community time to develop vaccinations and other modes of protection and cures encase this pandemic does reach us. I think the UK has the right idea in stock piling their resources even if they are not sure the virus will affect their communities.


Is there an MRSA epidemic on our hands?

Honestly no pun intended; however, a very interesting segment of 60 Minutes on CBS that was recently broadcasted: “Controlling the Superbug” sure caught my attention. I also believe that the heart of this discussion further emphasizes our previous in class epidemiology assignment. Only now the focus is not only on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections that occur more exclusively in hospital and healthcare settings, nursing homes and dialysis centers, or in those individuals that are elderly or immunocompromised. Becoming more prevalent are acquired infections in otherwise healthy people and young students, including athletes, which are typically signified as the epitome of health. These infections are known as community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and are cause for great concern. 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl reported on an increasing number of outbreaks. One such case, “Mt. Lebanon High School in Pennsylvania has been hit hard: 13 members of its football team, the Blue Devils, came down with MRSA infections this year” (Stahl 1). Further adding to the problem, “parents are understandably frantic and want to know what causes it, and how to protect against it. Problem is: there aren't many answers” (Stahl 1). Top that off with “Everyone agrees that this is an epidemic. And not only is it an epidemic. But, it's an epidemic of our times. It's here in huge numbers," says Dr. Robert Daum, an infectious disease pediatrician at the University of Chicago Medical Center (Stahl 1), and voila: a recipe for panic stricken people who live in a society driven by fear and misinformation or worse, lack of information, reacting to the emergence of a serious problem.

Behold, the proclamation of a witch-hunt or modern day lynching on “the cockroach of bacteria” (AP 1). So now we have a mob gathering their weapons with a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality. Case in point: "I understand that one parent wanted you to put all the kids on an antibiotic, Bactrim, as a preventative," (Stahl 3). Perfect. Why don’t we add some more selective pressure and further test Darwin’s theories? Is this not part of the reason that our society is in such a predicament in the first place? How about what will happen when the mob runs out of “silver bullets”? One of the most serious threats to public health on a global scale is the conjugation of drug-resistant pathogens. New strains known as meticillin-resistant (formerly methicillin-resistant) MRSA have developed resistance to the antibiotic used as the last line of defense, giving way to new strains of vancomycin-resistant S. aureus (VRSA) and enterococci (VRE) (Willey, et al).

It is becoming increasingly more apparent that the general public requires some type of authority or regulating body to intervene when such circumstances arise and foresight is required. The high school at Mt. Lebanon quite appropriately enlisted Dr. Bruce Dixon, director of the public health department for Allegheny county, otherwise absolute chaos might have ensued. Even still, parents in dozens of school districts had demanded that schools be shut down, classrooms sterilized, and rooms fumigated (Stahl 3). According to Dixon, “They thought that the field was contaminated. There were people that wanted the field replaced. There were people who wanted the field somehow sterilized… I'm concerned that we have schools that are spending inordinate amounts of money trying to sterilize the school. As soon as the students and the faculty return, the school is no longer sterile" (Stahl 3). Needless to say, the football team has new rules about personal hygiene and the players may actually now become “hand washers” (Stahl 4). It then occurred to me that we also have international initiatives to prevent the spread of infectious disease in many third world nations, by providing the most basic of necessities, developing infrastructures for fresh, clean, running water and teaching hygiene to children. Julie Gerberding head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, held a CDC staph awareness poster and stressed prevention largely by common sense hygiene, “Soap and water is the cheapest intervention we have, and it's one of the most effective” (AP 1) while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington over the recent headlines. Nevertheless, there are some authoritative figures that have a different perspective. "To think we control community MRSA epidemics by asking people to wash their hands is foolish. I'm not gonna sit here and say washing your hands is bad. Because it's wonderful. But, it's not going to control the community MRSA epidemic," said Dr. Daum (Stahl 4).

I strongly support community education projects which address the problems related to antibiotic resistance as they promote knowledge and awareness to a diverse audience, and may even dispel some common myths regarding bacteria and viruses. For example: “a survey done in February 2000 by the National Information Program on Antibiotics indicates that 54 per cent of adults in Canada believe antibiotics are effective against viruses” (Blondel-Hill MD, FRCP, et al). One such program, Do Bugs Need Drugs?® is a cooperative effort in Alberta and British Columbia, funded for provincial implementation in B.C. by the Ministry of Health, Pharmacare Division. In fact this organization’s website has specialized sections ranging from the general public to more specific demographic targets, such as parents, teachers, kids, daycares, health care, occupational health, and assisted living professionals. Some of the information is even available in ten other languages.

It is apparent that cooperation on all fronts is not only desirable, but is mandatory for such efforts to be successful. We can only hope that the prospective consequences of an epidemic are enough incentive for individuals to adopt these responsibilities themselves, transforming such a simple chore as personal hygiene into a simple habit. I do not pretend to have all of the answers, yet I can personally confirm antibiotic misuse in our own community when I was misdiagnosed with bacterial pneumonia last spring. This is a common occurrence. Antibiotics are being appallingly overused, mostly for respiratory tract infections. Many are being prescribed inaccurately, for a multitude of other symptoms. I am quite sure that many of us have similar experiences. As an aspiring medical scientist, I only respectfully offer that there is no substitution for intelligent preventative measures combined with proactive education to promote knowledge and awareness. So please, for your own personal health as well as for others, do your part and remember to wash your hands!


Stahl, Lesley, 60 Minutes. (Nov. 11, 2007). CBS News.
Accessed November 12, 2007.

Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Accessed November 12, 2007.

Associated Press. (Nov. 7, 2007). CBS News.
Accessed November 12, 2007.

Willey, Joanne M, et al, “Prescott, Harley, and Klein’s Microbiology”, Seventh Edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, 2008, pp. 849-851.

Blondel-Hill MD, FRCP, Edith, et al. Do Bugs Need Drugs?®.
Accessed November 23, 2007.

Monday, November 26, 2007

TB’s Fighting Back!!

Tuberculosis… we’ve all heard of it. Many have thought it may have been cured, but it has made a comeback into today’s health headlines. Tuberculosis is a respiratory bacterial infection, but can also sometimes attack the central nervous system among other areas of the body. The bacterium that causes tuberculosis is called Mycobacterium tuberculosis and is bacillus in morphology and tests weakly positive in a Gram stain. It is highly infective as it only needs a cough or a sneeze from an infected person to transmit the bacterium. After the discovery of successful antibiotics, the number of incidences of being diagnosed with Tuberculosis dropped dramatically. Consistent use of antibiotics, in combination with an unsuccessful eradication program has caused new strains of Tuberculosis to emerge. A recent program by the World Health Organization to halt Tuberculosis has resulted in an “extensively” resistant strain to antibiotics.

Researchers tracked the developing drug resistance of one particular strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis over 12 years. They found that at the time of the 2001 adoption of the DOT+ strategy for multi-drug resistant strains, the strain was already resistant to one or more of the drugs mandated by that strategy, thus allowing the strain to survive and develop resistance to additional drugs.

The continued use of antibiotics is not the answer to defeating the disease. The development of new treatment strategies may be what would be required to be able to continually battle the emergence of the now drug resistant stains of tuberculosis. The “discovery of copper-repressing protein in bacterium” may be a new strategy to defeat this disease.

Scientists have known that when macrophages - the host's immune cells - swallow an invading bacterium, they dump excessive amounts of copper onto the invader in an effort to kill it. While all cells need copper to function, too much of the metal ion causes cell death.

"But the invaders fight back with their own defense," says Adel Talaat, a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. "They block the excess copper."

As this may hopefully be a new way to fight bacterial infections, of not only tuberculosis, the question now is how to trick the bacterium to forgo the mechanisms that prevent excessive uptake of copper.


Image Sources:

Appendix Isn’t Totally Useless

For quite some time now scientists have believed that the appendix has no apparent function since it cannot be removed without causing any noticeable effects to the person who has had it removed.

The appendix is a small finger-like projection connected to the cecum. On average the appendix is about 10 cm in length, but can vary from 2 cm-20 cm. It is found in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, and is corresponds with a point on the surface know as McBurney’s Point. Before now the appendix has been said to be just a vestigial structure, meaning that it has no known purpose.

Recent studies at Duke University Medical Center that there are beneficial bacteria in the appendix that can aid digestion can ride out a bout of diarrhoea that completely evacuates the intestines and afterwards repopulate the gut. The appendix makes a good home for bacteria because they can remain their undisturbed until they are need.

There are immune cells found in the appendix and with this new research has lead researchers to believe that the immune system cells in the appendix are there not to destroy but to protect these potentially important bacteria from harm.

There is a biofilm that is found on the inside of the bowels consists of microbes, mucous and immune system molecules that are able to live together on the lining of the intestine. The Immune molecules are there to protect and nourish the “good” bacteria that are living in these colonies. More importantly these biofilms are the most pronounced in the appendix and become less prevalent as you move away from it. By allowing the "good" bacteria to grow we are preventing "bad" bacteria from growing in their place, thus protecting us from potentially harmful diseases and illnesses.

The function of the appendix might be more visible if it wasn’t for modern health care and sanitation. In diseases that cause severe diarrhoea this can be very beneficial. Due to the position of the appendix it is very difficult for anything to enter it, so when the entire contents of the bowels are removed, including the biofilm, the bacteria are safe from harm. They are now able to emerge from the appendix and repopulate the get before any “bad” bacteria has a chance to take over. However with the advances in modern health care and sanitation practices these “good” bacteria may have very little effect on our health, but in countries where diseases like these are a serious problem because their medical system isn’t a good as ours, this bacteria may be very important.

One possible for the reason of the high occurrence of appendicitis in industrialized societies may be because of what scientists call the “hygiene hypothesis” which states that “people in "hygienic" societies have higher rates of allergy and perhaps autoimmune disease because they -- and hence their immune systems -- have not been as challenged during everyday life by the host of parasites or other disease-causing organisms commonly found in the environment. So when these immune systems are challenged, they can over-react.” This over-reactivity of the immune system could lead to the inflammation of the appendix that has been associated with appendicitis. This could lead to the obstruction of the intestines that causes acute appendicitis, in which case the appendix needs to be removed.

Image From:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Plaque: a biofilm formation

One of the most uncomplicated things to do besides washing your hands, is brushing your teeth. Saliva in your mouth keeps plaque from forming on your teeth but only for a short time. The enamel on your teeth absorb certain glycoprotein’s that are acidic to form this protective layer called an acquired enamel pellicle. This pellicle has a negative charge which repels most bacteria in the mouth because they are also negatively charged. This defence breaks down with the formation of dental plaque. Some gram positive bacteria such as Streptococcus gordonii, S. oralis, and S. mitis can attach to the pellicle and start colonization. These initial bacteria can coat the pellicle so that other bacteria normally not able to attach, can now attach to these bacteria that initially colonized the teeth. All these cells divide and grow to increase colony strength.

A matrix can now form in between the layers caused by the bacteria and dietary sucrose. Certain bacteria feed off of the dietary sucrose to produce "additional sticky microbial substances", which is where the other bacteria get their energy from. As this matrix of bacteria we call plaque thickens it can become more gram negative from all the other bacteria that is in the plaque. Because of the plaque the there is an absence of oxygen on the surface of the tooth which can lead to the growth of strict anaerobic bacteria, so the plaque can form between teeth. This formation of plaque can start to produce acids from the sucrose, that now cannot be neutralized, because the saliva cannot penetrate the biofilm. The acids can start to demineralise the teeth leading to tooth decay. It can happen fast, within days the biofilm formation can happen if you don’t brush or floss properly. So the thing is people need to brush, floss, and go to the dentist regularly because once this plaque forms only a trip to the dentist can get rid of it.

Prescott, Harley, & Klein's Microbiology Seventh Edition (page 991)

When Phages Attack: The War Against the Bacteria

Back in my high school days and my serious interests in micro-organisms, I pondered to myself, why don’t scientists modify bacteriophages to specifically target pathogenic bacteria. As it is, scientists today have increasingly researched this possibility as an alternative to conventional drug therapies. The use of bacteriophages to treat bacterial infection is called bacteriophage (or phage) therapy.

Bacteriophages have a high affinity towards specific receptor proteins bound on the surfaces of bacteria. This specificity allows the theoretical use of these viruses as treatment alternatives against pathogenic bacteria against human, animals, and even plants. The mechanism behind phage therapy is that the bacteria will lysis upon invasion of the bacteriophage, thus curing the disease. Because bacteriophages have a high specificity towards a specific type of bacteria, they would make excellent use since the phages would not damage other cells, unlike conventional drug therapies.

One of the issues dealing with conventional drug therapies is the penetration of biofilms. Drugs have a difficulty in being effective in the presence of a biofilm. Phage therapy doesn’t have this issue since the phages could bypass the biofilm and destroy the bacteria.

In drug therapies, bacteria can evolve to develop resistances against drugs, as in the case with MRSA. With phage therapy, the evolution of resistance to the phages theoretically should be balanced out with the evolution of the phage to continued infection of the bacteria. One study showed promising results in the use of phage therapy.

In Britain, H. W. Smith and M. B. Huggins (1982, 1983) carried out a series of studies on use of phages in systemic E. coli infections in mice and then in diarrheal disease in young calves. For example, they found that injecting 106 colony-forming units of a particular pathogenic strain intramuscularly killed 10/10 of the mice, but none died if they simultaneously injected 104 plaque-forming units of a phage selected against the K1 capsule antigen of that bacterial strain. This phage treatment was more effective than using such antibiotics as tetracycline, streptomycin, ampicillin or trimethoprim/sulfafurazole. Furthermore, the resistant bacteria that emerged had lost their capsule and were far less virulent.

Another possibility for phage therapy is to be used in conjunction with conventional drug therapies. Since some bacteriophages are lysogenic, these phages are able to combine their genetic material with the bacterial cell’s DNA. This insertion of genetic material may be able to code for proteins and enzymes that could weaken the bacteria’s defenses. After the weakening of the defense mechanism, conventional drug therapies would then destroy the bacteria as they normally would.

With the new research into phage therapy and the efforts put into modifications of genes, I leave you with this question. Would it not be possible to manufacture specific bacteriophages to target any bacteria in the near future?


Friday, November 23, 2007

Microogranisms Saving the World

Microbiology appears in our daily lives everywhere, but the most valuable area that it is developing in is industrial biotechnology. Our mother-earth is in crisis; the amount of green house emissions is growing into an uncontrollable state and the amount of un-recyclable waste thrown away is nerve wracking. The human population consumes and consumes to a degree that in a very short time we will be left with no natural resources and a heavily polluted planet. The industrial biotechnology industry is working hard with combined efforts from nanotechnologists to find a cure to our petrochemical hungry lives.

Biotechnologists have devised a method to change foreign produced petroleum into domestically produced bio-fuels. This process began as a very clunky, slow and expensive procedure; however, it is now paving the way as a new inexpensive and environmentally friendly approach to power our vehicles. The idea for a new reusable transportation fuel was introduce with the notion that carbon from sugars in cellulose walls would be used instead of carbon from dinosaur fossils. A solution in using advanced enzymatic systems to break down the carbon skeletons from cellulosic biomass, such as crop residues, to sugars that feed yeast was introduced. The yeast produces ethanol as a metabolic product which in turn is the fuel that feeds cars. There are a couple of problems posed with this solution unfortunately. The first being, scientists needed to make it more economically viable by alternately using corn stovers or corn stocks (complex sugars) instead of corn (simple sugar) as a lower cost source. As well, technicians needed enzymes that would function in the high temperatures required for faster production of sugars. The first answer was brought with the discovery of Trichoderma reesei, a common soil fungus, that can manufacture a large amount of enzymes that break down cellulose. Like any plant enzyme, it had a natural tendency to denature, change shape, when exposed to extreme temperatures commanding it nonfunctional. So, scientists started to collect extremophiles, deep ocean micro-organisms called diatoms, which could function at these high temperatures. Diatoms build very elaborate silicon structures with intricate machinery to protect themselves in extreme environments. This posed a problem to scientists wanting to reproduce them by synthetic means. Nano-technicians stepped in and applied a new level of understanding to make reproduction feasible. Soon after, it didn’t take long for scientist to manipulate T. reesei to take the nature of diatoms. A new microbe was constructed that could withstand these high temperatures and cleave cellulose into individual sugars freeing them for ethanol production by yeast. Odd to think that one gallon of this cellulosic ethanol can replace three gallons of imported oil, which powers our motor vehicles, not at the sympathy of earth, but offered in safe emissions.


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How Far Down Does The Rabbit Hole Go?

There are a lot of vaccines present in the world today. But how many are really beneficial to us and, how many really provide what they advertise? Overall, the general public consensus on receiving a vaccination is favorable. Most of the time getting vaccinated is a good idea because it slows the development of viruses. But would you change your mind if you knew a little more about certain types of vaccines, Gardasil in particular?

First of all, lets address what Gardasil “really” prevents? This is a generic vaccination for four strains of viral oncogenes, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. The vaccination covers only two of the major strains or causative oncogenes, 16 and 18. It also incorporates two minor strains of genital warts that could lead to HPV, 6 and 11. But there are over 100’s of known forms of HPV present that the vaccine does not cover. Scientists decided to vaccinate against these two prominent strains because they are the cause of 70% of cervical cancer. So where did the other 30% go? What happens if 16 and 18 evolve their glycoprotein receptors as a resistance to the new drug because it is under pressure? The vaccine is then rendered useless. Who knows how long this morphology will take because, the oncogenes have never been under this type of stress before. Then what? We discover another vaccine and another until we form a superbug. (Refer to Rochelle’s Blog posting, “Ear Infections Caused by Superbug”) Why bother if our bodies rid HPV naturally? Some women can contracted HPV and, cleared it without even knowing it because our bodies naturally clear it within two years with no symptoms. Which leads me to my next point, Gardasil will not prevent against previously contracted a strain of HPV. Have you ladies had a pap smear recently to know? Another downer to this vaccine is that there is also a 5-2% chance that Gardasil is not effective depending on the cancer that could develop; this is a very small chance but a chance none the less. My final point is that there is an indefinite time line as to how long the vaccine will be effective for. So who really knows when the vaccine will stop working? What is known, repeated inoculations over the course of 5 years for women within a small select age range from 9-26 are needed to make it effective. These are all facts that your doctor might already be able to tell you but, here is something that he/she might not know. All of these tests and stats have been conducted by Gardasil, the FDA has approved it. But the government or other authorities have not preformed their own separate testing yet. I do not doubt that Gradasil’s scientist know what they are doing but, my question is has the data been altered in some way? The only reason why I question this is because Merck, scientist that made Gardasil, produced an earlier product called Vioxx. Vioxx was supposed to reduce pain and help arthritis; however, it was taken off selves five years later because it was the cause of severe heart attacks and strokes. Merck hid the high risk of Vioxx from patients and doctors until the time of recall despite the warning from the US FDA about the marketing of Vioxx. So let me ask you this… Are you really covered?

I am sure everyone has seen the commercial that wants to make you believe that you are covered against cervical cancer. The commercial makes me think that they are more after our money than anything because it withholds very critical information about Gardasil. Gardasil even hands out free bags that contain some chocolate, fisherman’s friend, door hanger, condoms and coupon for Homesense but, there were no pamphlets that give any information about their product. Does Gardasil have something to hide this time?

What does all this have to do with Microbiology? HPV contains double stranded, circular DNA that codes for 12 genes. Two of these genes encode for proteins that make up the capsule (protein shell of virion), L1 and L2. Two code for the proteins E6 and E7 which disrupt the normal host cell cycle. The rest of the HPV genes mechanisms are unknown. In fact most of the HPV cycle is unknown because it is hard to grow viable colonies in lab. Although, studies have shown that the E6 and E7 protein translated by the host cell binds and degrade the tumor suppressor genes p53 and retinoblastoma. These tumor suppressor genes are responsible for maintaining the degree of growth and responding to growth ligands. Thus if these tumor suppressor genes are not functional it could result in the cell mutation and over growth of cells which could lead to cancer.


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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bovine Batteries,Cows as a source of electriciy?

Now I have heard everything! But I wasn't surprised to find that bacteria made this crazy concept possible. Naturally occurring bacteria in the cow's rumen, the first of the chambers in a cows stomach where microbial fermentation takes place,are to thank. These bacteria feed on cellulose which is converted into carbon dioxide, releasing electrons. A microbial fuel cell (MFC) generates electricity by acting as the electron acceptor in the bacterial metabolic process in an anaerobic environment.
Here is the basic principal of a MFC. There are two compartments that are separated by a thin membrane made of special material to allow the passage of protons. The bacteria (the rumen fluid) and substrate (the cellulose), are place in one compartment with a graphite rod. This is the anode. As the bacteria metabolises the cellulose the process releases electrons that move through the anode to the cathode compartment through a wire with a resistor. The movement of protons together with the flow of electrons across the wire creates an electrical current.
It takes two of the newest cells to produce enough electricity to recharge a AA battery. That doesn't seem like much now, but considering that cellulose is the most abundant resource on the planet this technology has promising possibilities for clean energy. And cellulose is just one type of organic matter that bacteria can convert to electricity, take for instance human waste.
Researches at Pennsylvania State University have build a microbial fuel cells that runs off of human waste water. Waste water is passed through a plastic tube that contains a graphite rod that acts as the anode and a home for the bacteria. As the bacteria feed on the waste they produce electrons that travel up the anode through wire to a cathode, producing an electrical current. The only thing is you have to keep the bacteria fed. Considering the food source, that shouldn't be a problem! This amazing device uses bacteria to treat waste water while producing energy. Could you image a sewage treatment plant that powered itself, a plant that cleans our water and powers our homes!


New Laser Technology

Ultra-violet light is able to destroy micro organisms because of its low wave-length (10-400 nm) and high energy. The UV radiation is extremely harmful to cells because it causes thymine dimers to form in the DNA. The DNA replication mechanisms are unable to repair the dimers, this causes DNA replication to halt and then the cell enters apoptosis.

Traditional laser treatments are unable to discriminate between foreign cells and human cells. When this treatments are used not only destroy the virus or bacteria but human cells as well. The side effects of this kind of treatment include skin aging, damage to the DNA of human cells, and may also cause skin cancer. Another problem with this type of treatment is that it is not 100% effective.

There has been a recent discovery from the Arizona State University in which a laser that emits infrared pulses is able to discriminate between human and problem microorganism cells. This technology uses Femtosecond laser pulses, and through a process called Impulsive Stimulated Raman Scattering (ISRS), produces lethal vibrations in the protein coat of microorganisms, thereby destroying them. This laser is similar to the principles that work when high pitched noises shatter glass.

With this new technology the Femtosecond laser pulses use a process called impulsive Stimulated Raman Scattering which produced vibration in the protein coat of micro-organisms which destroys the viruses and bacteria without causing any damage to human cells. Only the bacterial or viral cells are destroyed because the protein coat of their cells are very different from the protein coat of human cells. However when selecting the wavelength and pulses of the laser you need to be careful to select one that will only damage/destroy the viral or bacterial cells and not the human cells as well. Otherwise you will still have similar problems that were caused by the UV laser radiation.

This new technology has many different applications. It can be used in hospitals to disinfect blood supplies as well as other bio materials. This would be very beneficial in a hospital setting because it would make sure that bio materials would be fully sterilized without have to worry about destroying the beneficial cells. Another hospital application would be to use it on infections such as MRSA. This technology can also be used for the treatment of blood-borne illnesses such as AIDS and hepatitis.

Prescott, Harley, & Klein's Microbiology Seventh Edition (Pg 142)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ear Infections, what you should know...

A new super bug had been discovered in kids, ear infections that resist all antibiotics allowed for children. As we have feared for sometime now bacteria are evolving and becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics.

This newly found resistant bug is Streptococcus pneumoniae, it causes sever ear infections in children and infants. The only antibiotics that have been found to treat the bacteria cause sever joint problems in the kids who have taken them. Other treatments available for children include surgery and extremely aggressive therapy.

The Streptococcus Pneumonia if left untreated can cause much more serious problems such as pneumonia, blood stream infections, and meningitis.

“We need to alert doctors across North America that the possibility exists for a super bug,” says Dr. Michael Pichicher, a Microbiology and Immunology professor at the University of Rochester.

Sadly the bug has already caused serious problems. One child has lost all hearing due to the infection; the bug was not caught early enough and should have been treated sooner. Now that we are aware of the new pathogen we need to learn to recognize and test for the mutated infection earlier. We also need to work on developing a new antibiotic safe for the use of children to kill the ear infection.
Source: Canwest News Services
Alberni Valley Times (Wed Oct 17/07)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

HPV and cervical cancer.

HPV, or human papillomavirus has been making the news and been a hot topic of controversy lately. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women world wide and HPV infections are present in 100% of all cervical cancer patients, coincidence? Definitely not!

HPV is the most commonly transmitted infection in the United States and over half of all sexually active American are infected at some time in their lives. There are usually no symptoms so passing it to someone else without even knowing it is fairly easy, it requires only skin on skin contact to be transmitted. I am going to assume that the stats are pretty close for Canadians as well. Not so scary considering that most HPV infections will come and go without ever causing any symptoms, our ever amazing immune systems taking care of the virus before it causes any damage. But (of course there is a but), of the 37 types of HPV that are spread through sexual contact, there are about 19 "high risk"types that can develop into cervical cancer.
(ThinPrep Pap smear with group of normal cervical cells on left and HPV-infected cells on right. The HPV-infected cells show features typical of koilocytes: enlarged (x2 or x3) nuclei and hyperchromasia)

The virus does so by producing the proteins E6 and E7 which effectively inactivates or turns off the P53 gene. Why does this matter so much? The P53 gene is a tumor suppressor gene, a transcription factor that regulate the cycle and cell apoptosis. Without it there is excessive cell division that leads to tumors and cancer.

But alas, unlike other forms of cancer there is a vaccine. Gardasil and Cervarix are two types of vaccines that work against type 16 and 18 of the virus by getting the body to produce virus-neutralizing antibodies that will prevent initial infections. That's right, just like the flu shot! Hallow virus-like particles are produces from recombinant HVP coat proteins. What? Well, DNA from the viral protein coat are inserted into another organisms genome, such as the plasmids of bacteria. This DNA is expressed and a virus-like particle is assembled that has no viral DNA and therefore cannot cause infection. This initial vaccines is expected to last for 4.5 years with repeated inoculations later.

So we have a preventative measure, but what if you already have cervical cancer or cannot get the vaccines? Like any other form of cancer early detection is the key. Regular Pap smears and visits to your doctor are a must. Edward Yeung an Iowa State University professor has developed a method of detecting a single HPV molecule. The current test being used requires 10 to 50 viral molecules. This new technology, which is not in use yet, creates chemical reagents that recognize the genetic sequence of HPV. The reagents label the genome by florescence, which are lite when passed through a laser. "Yeung said single molecule detection of the virus could help women and families decide to get vaccinated. He said vaccines administered after such early detection could still have time to stop the virus."

Preventative measures and early detection, is cervical cancer going the way of Polio and the dinosaurs? Hopefully with education and common sense we can see a decline in the women who suffer from what now seem to be a preventable disease.


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Friday, November 9, 2007

Global Warming and Bacteria

Global warming and bacteria

As the world gets warmer everyday and we are trying to decrease the use of any substances that produce greenhouse gases (fossil fuels), the CO2 levels keep increasing. However, the statistics and numbers of CO2 levels are based in the production of it in the industry (fabrics, cars, coal, etc). We have forgotten the most abundant form of life in earth; Bacteria. So how has Bacteria been affected by global warming? And what is the role of bacteria in global warming?

Most of the carbon in the world is storage in large layers of ice in the Arctic pole; they have been there for long periods of time. However, the increasing temperatures are melting the Arctic ring. As we know by now studies of the soil in the Arctic have shown us there are microorganisms living in it. These bacteria can be classified as Psychrophile (as cold temperatures are permanent). Some of these Bacteria have lived in endospores for many years; let’s remind ourselves that endospores can protect bacteria against extreme conditions i.e. freezing temperatures. As the world gets warmer these bacteria are breaking down long-term stores of carbon; that is, they are getting carbon sources from the Arctic soil as source of energy and producing CO2 as a by-product. This increasing of CO2 emissions would increase the effects of global warming. Another aspect is that Global warming is increasing the rate in which bacteria are decomposing death matter (leafs, animals) producing CO2. This is a problem because there is no longer a balance between the production of CO2 by decomposition and the absorbance of this green house gas by plants.

So what else can we expected from global warming? Well, the melting of the Arctic layer is bringing old bacteria and viruses back to life. These new populations could potentially be infections organism we thought were gone or be new organism which could cause epidemics never seen before. The only thing left to say is that we need to keep in mind that our actions are not just affecting the human race; it is also affecting Mother Nature. Bacteria and viruses would get their sources to keep living, and they will not care going through us to succeed. Hopefully we are not too late to make a big difference to make our future better.

New Scientist; 7/9/2005, Vol. 187 Issue 2507, p45-45, 1/2p, 1c

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ear Infections caused by Superbug: "It all starts with the Ear"

A recent discovery has shown that there is a strain of bacteria causing chronic ear infections in children. It was discovered after common ear infection antibiotics failed to heal infections, which lead to an ear-tap and examination of the fluid. Tests on the fluid showed this "superbug" was being caused by strain 19A, and was found treatable using an adult antibiotic called levofloxacin, Levaquin (which the use of it has not been proven safe for children yet). However, there is a much bigger underlying issue at hand: over-prescribing of antibiotics leading to untreatable strains of bacteria, causing ear infections, pneumonia, meningitis, blood infections, etc... These conditions can lead to hearing loss, brain damage, and even death. It seems many doctors do not perform an ear tap to determine the type of bacteria causing the ear infection. They instead prescribe one of the many known antibiotics used to heal ear infections in children, without knowing if the infection will heal on its own or if the particular strain causing the infection is resistant to the antibiotic prescribed. This leads to using antibiotics when unnecessary, or using more types of antibiotics than necessary. This in turn builds antibiotic resistance. If the strain 19A becomes predominant in causing ear infections, than the use of the levofloxaxin, Levoquin antibiotic will increase, and pretty soon immunity to that will develop and there will be no approved treatment for ear infections, and overall strain 19A. The reality of strain 19A as a "superbug" will become inevitable, and with the way society is today, seemingly unavoidable.
Most ear infections are caused by Acute
Otitis, which usually comes from the bacteria S. Pneumonia. S.Pneumonia is also known to cause pneumonia and meningitis. Wyeth's Prevnan is a vaccine recommended for children under two to help prevent pneumonia. S. Pneumonia works by coating itself in a 90 variation sugar capsule that infects human cells by mimicking human cell coatings. 7 of the most common variations that cause infection are prevented by Prevnan.
This, and the overuse of antibiotics, made room for the other less common capsule variations (like strain 19A) to prevail. A new vaccine to cover more strains of S. Pneumonia is expected to come to market by 2009.

Some better advice: Be more cautious about "over-dosing" on antibiotics;
don't get treated for every little infection......after all we do have an immune system, and metaphorically speaking "If you don't use it, you lose it!"


University of Rochester Medical Center (2007, October 17). Ear Infection Superbug Discovered To Be Resistant To All Pediatric Antibiotics.
ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 8, 2007, from

Marchione, Marilyn (2007, September 17). Pneumonia Vaccine May Facilitate 'Superbug' Ear Infections.
Associated Press: C Health. Retrieved November 8, 2007, from

Gordon, Serena (2007, October 16). Ear Infections Linked to Drug-Resistant 'Superbug'.
HealthDay News. Retrieved November 8, 2007, from

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Viruses and Osteosarcoma

Cancer is an illness that in some way or another has affected everyone. It is usually associated with older people who have had time to live their lives. However, there is a cancer that is almost only found in children and teens between the ages of nine and twenty-two, although, it can occur in people of any age. It is most commonly found in the femur, humerus and tibia and arises from osteoblasts (the cells that produce bone and cause it to grow). During the teen years children are going through growth spurts with their cells quickly dividing. Obviously the cause of cancer is not known however, there are possible hypothesises that bring forth a good argument. We know that proto-oncogenes aid in the normal function of the cell cycle and we also know that viruses are capable of disrupting the proto-onogene. In the case of Osteosarcoma a virus could interfere with the proto-onogene causing the inhibition of p53 (a protein that blocks the cell cycle if DNA is damaged). The virus then could begin to control the cell cycle in some way. The mutation causes inability for cells to pass through S phase and the check points, being the perfect precursor for tumour development. Because osteosarcoma most often arises in teenagers experiencing growth spurts, bones are growing at a rapid rate with the mutated cells taking control, being replicated more quickly than they would during other periods of one’s life. This p53 is an important part in the cell cycle which allows our cells to pass through the appropriate check points. When it is inhibited disaster occurs. If only they could figure out a way to block inhibition of this protein or block viruses from inserting into our genome all together. Unfortunately it is hard to keep up with research because viruses change so quickly. Maybe there will never be a cure for virus caused cancers...although, we can hope!

Even though there is not a cure for osteosarcoma or any cancer for that matter research is moving quickly to make mortality rate lower and lower. Osteosarcoma can be treated with vigorous interval treatments of chemotherapy. Because it mostly occurs in younger people their bodies can with stand a higher dosage. Allowing the tumour to reduce significantly in size and proceed on to surgery. If surgery goes well and the tumour reduces in size due to the chemotherapy the affected bone can be replaced with titanium, this form of prosthetic is not noticeable. There is some limited function such as running. But, overall it is a much better alternative than the “old fashioned” prosthetics. Even though there is no complete cure of any cancer, research makes it possible to limit the heart ache that caused by it.