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News Scan for Mar 12, 2021

News Scan for Mar 12, 2021

NIAID awards grants for bacteriophage research

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced yesterday that it has awarded $2.5 million in grants to support research on bacteriophage therapy.

Bacteriophages are viruses that can kill or incapacitate specific kinds of bacteria while leaving other bacteria and human cells unharmed. Scientists have been aware of the ability of bacteriophages to kill bacteria since 1917, but research withered after the discovery of antibiotics. Renewed interest has grown with the emergence of antibiotic resistance, and several case studies involving individual patients have demonstrated that bacteriophage therapy may be helpful in treating multidrug-resistant infections.

“In recent decades, multidrug-resistant bacteria, particularly those that cause potentially deadly diseases like tuberculosis, have become a serious and growing global public health concern,” NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, said in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) press release. “With these awards, NIAID is supporting research needed to determine if phage therapy might be used in combination with antibiotics‚ÄĒor replace them altogether‚ÄĒin treating evolving antibiotic-resistant bacterial diseases.”

The NIAID grants will support bacteriophage research at 12 institutes. Among the projects being supported are a study characterizing different types of phages, a project exploring how phages combat biofilms, and a study examining optimum delivery methods for phages targeting Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Mar 11 NIH press release

Analysis of Guinea Ebola virus suggests link to survivor of earlier outbreak

The source of Guinea’s latest Ebola outbreak might be a person rather than a fresh introduction from animals, according to an early analysis of genetic sequences posted today at, a prepublication data hub.

Scientists found that the new Guinea genomes share 10 substitutions that accumulated during West Africa’s 2014-16 outbreak, which they said make it unlikely that cases confirmed in recent weeks in Guinea reflect a new spillover from animals and are more likely linked to human cases in the region’s earlier outbreak.

The investigators found that the new genomes diverge by only 12 to 13 substitutions, far fewer than what would be expected for sustained human-to-human transmission. “Therefore, the index case of the 2021 Guinea cluster was likely infected from a persistent source, such as via sexual transmission from an [Ebola] survivor,” the team wrote, emphasizing that the findings are still preliminary. The researchers are from Guinea, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

At a World Health Organization (WHO) briefing today, Mike Ryan, MD, who leads the group’s health emergencies program, said the WHO is aware of the findings, which raise new questions on the length of virus persistence and latency in humans. He added that the result is remarkable, given that a tiny proportion of Ebola survivors are thought to harbor the virus for 6 months or more and that the findings reinforce the need for survivor follow-up and support.

In other Ebola outbreak developments, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) added 1 more case to its total, which is now 12, including 5 deaths, according to the WHO’s African regional office. The new case appears to be a probable infection involving someone who died in the community, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said today in its weekly communicable disease threat report.
Mar 12 post
Mar 12 WHO African regional office tweet
Mar 12 ECDC

CDC ends investigation into 22-case multistate E coli outbreak

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said yesterday that its investigation into a multistate Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak is over, but the food source of the outbreak remains unknown.

The outbreak sickened a total of 22 people in seven states, resulted in 11 hospitalization and 1 death. There were no recalls linked to the outbreak. Since its previous update on Feb 2, officials confirmed 6 new cases and two newly affected states.

Affected states were Texas, Washington, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Virginia, Maryland and New York. Arkansas reported the most cases, with nine, and Oklahoma followed with six cases. The person who died was from Washington.

The earliest illness began on Dec 23, and the most recent symptom onset was Jan 12. Patient ages range from 10 to 95 years, and 68% were female. Of 20 people with information available, 11 were hospitalized. Of 18 people with information, 3 developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.

State and local health officials interviewed people to see what they ate the week before they got sick, but no common exposure was ever identified.

“People reported eating a variety of food items, including leafy greens, broccoli, cucumbers, and strawberries. However, none of the food items were reported significantly more by sick people in this outbreak when compared to healthy people in the FoodNet population survey,” the CDC said.

Whole-genome sequencing suggests the E coli from sick people is closely related and that they were probably sickened by the same type of food. Samples from 14 patients were resistant to chloramphenicol, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, tetracycline, and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. The CDC said the outbreak strain was previously linked to various sources, including romaine lettuce and recreational water.
Mar 11 CDC update
Feb 3 CIDRAP News scan on previous update

Six countries report more vaccine-derived polio cases

Six countries reported more polio cases this week, all involving circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2), the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) said in its latest weekly report.

Afghanistan reported 14 cases from eight provinces, putting its 2020 total at 308 and its 2021 number so far at 17. Tajikistan reported two cVDPV2 cases in the Districts of Republican Subordination, located in the central part of the country, putting its number for the year at three.

In Africa, Mali reported five more cases in three different towns, increasing its total for 2020 to 43. Sierra Leone also reported five new cases, four in the Western area and one in the Northern area, bringing its total so far to eight.

The DRC confirmed three additional cases, 1 in Tshuapa province and 2 in Equateur province, lifting its number for 2020 to 81. And Sudan reported 1 more cVDPV2 case, in North Darfur, totaling 58 for 2020.
Mar 11 GPEI update

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