Tuesday, September 23, 2014

No Man is an Island

Fig.1. Salmonella bacteria can cause food poisoning and typhoid fever

One mild September day around 4 p.m. nearly two years ago, members of FDA’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network sat down with their state and federal partners to talk about a Salmonella outbreak. They quickly traced the outbreak’s source to a brand of peanut butter sold in Trader Joe’s. By 8 p.m. EDT that evening, they had a call with Trader Joe’s corporate offices, and by 9:40 p.m., Trader Joe’s issued a nationwide advisory to remove the product from their shelves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tracing the History of Disease

In 1894, two research physicians independently identified the bacterium that causes bubonic plague. The bacillus, now known as Yersinia pestis, had finally been found as the pathogen to a disease that killed millions. This discovery was timely because just six years later the plague arrived to the United States on a ship carrying passengers from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Over the next nine years, the bubonic plague swept through the city.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Modern Solution to an Ancient Problem

Eight centuries before the Black Death, a plague swept through the Byzantine Empire and then Europe with devastating consequences. More than 100 million people were killed from the 6th to 8th centuries in a pandemic known as the Plague of Justinian, or the first pandemic. Until last year, the cause of the disease was disputed, with arguments ranging from influenza to smallpox. Dave Wagner, an associate professor at Northern Arizona University, worked with scientists from around the world to confidently identify the bacterium Yersinia pestis as the cause of the pandemic.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Disease Collections and How They Can Save the World

In 1976, a young Belgian scientist named Peter Piot received a small, inconspicuous -- and broken -- vial of blood taken from a sick patient in the region that is now known as Democratic Republic of Congo. The sample, which had traveled as a passenger’s hand luggage in an ice box, was treated to the same routine lab tests as other medical samples. What Piot found under the microscope, however, was anything but ordinary. The worm-like structure belonged to a virus that looked remarkably similar to the Marburg virus, which, barely a decade earlier in Europe, had killed seven people in one fell swoop. After a lengthy visit to Africa by Piot and his colleagues, and the deaths of nearly 300 people, the epidemic was stopped. The Ebola virus had taken its place in medicine as an emerging infectious disease.