Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Experts talk scientific collections' role in disease research

Some of the world’s leading minds in emerging infectious diseases met Thursday and Friday at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to discuss scientific collections’ role in the disease outbreak cycle and research.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Smallpox, now online!

Fig.1. Transmission electron micrograph depicts smallpox virus virions (Mag. 370,000x). Credit: Dr. F. Murphy and S. Whitfield, CDC-PHIL #1849.

In 1979, the World Health Assembly declared the world free from smallpox. This virulent disease killed about 300 million people in the 20th century alone and reached all corners of the Earth. Decisive multilateral and bilateral efforts to eradicate the disease officially began in 1966 and ended with the last naturally occurring case in Somalia in 1977. A recent New York Times opinion piece, however, argued that the smallpox could return with a vengeance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In the age of humans

No other species has affected their surroundings as much as humans have affected the planet. This mantra was repeated throughout last week’s symposium , “Living in the Anthropocene: Prospects for Climate, Economics, Health, and Security," at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C. The “Anthropocene,” or the age of humans, is the increasingly popular term for an era of expanding urbanization, agricultural intensification, and an ever-growing population. Dr. George Luber, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke on the extremely timely topic of the widespread public health problems resulting from climate change.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Birthplace of the HIV-1 pandemic

Fig.1. HIV-1 under electron microscope.

Like all gripping stories, the origin of HIV/AIDS is steeped in sex, a population boom, and a rapidly changing culture. A recent study in Science traced the source of the pandemic HIV-1 group M to Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The international team of researchers, led by Oxford University and University of Leuven, used archival HIV-1 strains and demographic data dating to the early 20th century. Researchers concluded that the “perfect storm” of factors -- including sharp urban growth, increased transportation, and changes to sex trade -- led to the global pandemic that has infected more than 75 million people.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

CDC for Wildlife Diseases

Fig.1. Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) are especially vulnerable to White Nose Syndrome, with 90%-100% mortality during an outbreak (Photographer: Merlin Tuttle)

Last week, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service awarded more than $1.2 million to 30 states in an effort to combat White Nose Syndrome, a deadly disease affecting many bat species. Since its appearance in 2006, this disease has spread fast with greater than 90 percent mortality in some bat species. A 2009 study done by researchers at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI, determined that the fatal epizootic was caused by the fungus Pseudogymonoascus destructans. Although the White Nose Syndrome is only known to infect bats, declines in bat populations affect ecosystems and agriculture.