Deadly 'kissing bug' reported in 28 U.S. states, spreading parasite linked to Chagas disease

© Charles Hedgecock/AP
Here's another reason to stay in New York this holiday season — the "kissing bug" has now spread to 28 states.

Texas is the latest to report an outbreak of infections from the Latin American triatomine bug after the pest had been spotted in other southern and western states, including Georgia, Alabama and California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The creepy crawler resembling a cockroach gets its colorful nickname because it likes to bite around the lips and eyes of people when they are asleep. More than half of the bugs carry a parasite that can cause Chagas disease in humans, dogs and other mammals.

The good news? To actually pass on the disease, the bug not only needs to bite you, but then defecate into the gash. If left untreated, up to 30% of bite victims will develop chronic conditions such as difficulty breathing, heart and intestinal complications, and, in extreme cases, death.

There have been eight million cases in Latin America and South America because of poorly constructed rural homes, according to the CDC.

To prevent an outbreak, the CDC recommends:
Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors.

Removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your house.

Comment: Living in a toxic world: Iodine to the rescue

Bizarro Earth

Mystery purple slime coats Norway fjord

© Roger Larsen/University in Tromsø
The slime has been described as "a plague" by local fishermen.
A mysterious purple slime has emerged off the coast of northern Norway, coating millions of cubic meters of a picturesque fjord with a strange mucoid, margarine-like substance.

"We have not been able to find out what this really is, other than that we are talking about large amounts of jellyfish," Roger Larsen, associate professor at the University in Tromsø, told state news broadcaster NRK on Sunday.

"The images we are picking up from the echo sounders and other equipment are totally atypical.

We have tried to gather information to find the answers, but I am absolutely sure that this is something we've never seen before."

Larsen, who has been surveying the emergence of the slime since fishermen first began reporting it in late August, said that the substance had collected in a 200m wide belt around the Lyngen Fjord.

"We are talking about millions of cubic metres," he said.


Chipotle closes 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington after investigation into E. coli outbreak opens

© Robert Galbraith / Reuters
Fast food chain Chipotle voluntarily closed 43 restaurants in Washington State and Oregon over the weekend after health authorities launched an investigation into 22 cases of E. coli poisoning. Beef shipped across the US has also been recalled.

"There have been links made to six restaurants in the Seattle and Portland areas," Chris Arnold, communications director for Chipotle, told The New York Times. "We have closed 43 restaurants in those markets out of an abundance of caution."

The company is not planning to close any other restaurants because there is no evidence of an E. coli link to other locations. Re-openings will depend on the investigation.

The Oregon Health Authority said in a statement over the weekend that the outbreak affected people who had eaten at Chipotle outlets from October 14 to 23. They expect the number of cases to rise as more people hear about the situation and seek medical attention.


More research needed - Blood biomarker predicts death from serious infection

© Getty
The biomarker predicts hospitalisation and deaths from sepsis.
Scientists have found a biomarker in the blood that can tell if a person is more likely than others to die early from pneumonia or sepsis.

The biomarker is associated with chronic inflammation, perhaps due to microbial infection, and predicts death from infection up to 14 years in the future, said researchers today in the journal Cell Systems.

But, the researchers warned further research was needed before a test for the biomarker would be warranted.

In the past year, scientists have found that when a collection of common proteins called GlycA is elevated in the blood, a person is more likely to die prematurely.

"Per unit increase of GlycA, you get an increased risk of death, from any cause, of between 40 and 50 per cent," said Dr Michael Inouye from the University of Melbourne's Centre for System Genomics. But little was known about the biology of the GlycA biomarker, and how it could lead to early death.

"We wanted to understand why, because without that you can't remove the risk," said Dr Inouye.

He and colleagues analysed data, much of it electronic records, on over 10,000 adults from Finland and found that those who had elevated GlycA tended to be more likely to die from sepsis and pneumonia.

"As GlycA increases, your risk of disease increase," Dr Inouye said.

"There were some strong associations. People who had one unit increase in GlycA levels were at 2.2 fold increased risk from sepsis, which makes up the majority of systemic infections."

Importantly, the study showed that when GlycA levels became elevated they tended to remain so for up to a decade, and GlycA predicted death from infection up to 14 years in the future.


Plague began infecting humans much earlier than thought

© Natalia Shishlina
This skull is from an individual of the Yamnaya people, a group that moved into Central Asia in early Bronze Age (c. 5000 years ago). The group belonged to a culture that is one of the Bronze Age groups carrying Y. pestis.
The germ that causes the plague began infecting humans thousands of years earlier than scientists had previously thought.

Researchers analyzed teeth from the remains of 101 individuals that were collected from a variety of museums and archaeological excavations. They found DNA of the bacterium that causes plague, called Yersinia pestis, in seven of these people. The earliest sample that had plague DNA was from Bronze Age Siberia, and dated back to 2794 B.C., and the latest specimen with plague, from early Iron Age Armenia, dated back to 951 B.C.

Previously, the oldest direct molecular evidence that this bacterium infected humans was only about 1,500 years old.

"We were able to find genuine Yersinia pestis DNA in our samples 3,000 years earlier than what had previously been shown," said Simon Rasmussen, a lead author of the study and a bioinformatician at the Technical University of Denmark.

The finding suggests that plague might be responsible for mysterious epidemics that helped end the Classical period of ancient Greece and undermined the Imperial Roman army, the researchers said.

The new study also sheds light on how plague bacteria have evolved over time, and on how it and other diseases might evolve in the future, the investigators added.

Plague is a lethal disease so infamous that it has become synonymous with any dangerous, widespread contagion. It was one of the first known biological weapons — for instance, in 1346, Mongols catapulted plague victims into the Crimean city of Caffa, according to a 14th-century Italian memoir. The germ is carried and spread by fleas, as well as person-to-person contact.

Yersinia pestis has been linked with at least two of the most devastating pandemics in recorded history. One, the Great Plague, which lasted from the 14th to 17th centuries, included the notorious epidemic known as the Black Death, which may have killed up to half of Europe's population at the time.

Arrow Down

Carbon nanotube pollutants found in human lungs

© Fathi Moussa/Paris-Saclay University
Carbon nanotubes (the long rods) and nanoparticles (the black clumps) appear in vehicle exhaust taken from the tailpipes of cars in Paris.
Some potentially disturbing news out of France this week: Researchers studying the lungs of young Parisian asthma patients have found evidence that man-made carbon nanotubes are becoming a common air pollutant.

Carbon nanotubes are deliberately manufactured in several industries — their unique physical properties make them useful in electronics and nanotechnology, especially. But they can also be created accidentally, as a byproduct of catalytic converters in automobile engines.

The study — conducted by researchers in Paris and at Rice University in Houston — found that carbon nanotubes from the asthma patients' lungs are similar to nanotube samples taken from the exhaust pipes of Paris vehicles.

It's apparently not just a local problem, either: The samples are also similar to nanotubes found in Houston, in spider webs in India and even in polar ice cores.

No direct linkage is suggested between the nanotubes and asthma, but previous studies have questioned whether carbon nanotubes might act like asbestos, a known carcinogen.

"The concentrations of nanotubes are so low in these samples that it's hard to believe they would cause asthma, but you never know," says chemist Lon Wilson in press materials provided by Rice University. "What surprised me the most was that carbon nanotubes were the major component of the carbonaceous pollution we found in the samples."


Australian government prepares to punish parents who don't vaccinate children

© Natural Society
The Australian government is set to pass a law that would withhold child care and other benefits from parents who opt out of vaccinating their children.

Under the "No Jab, No Pay Bill" introduced to Parliament, the "conscientious objector" category would be removed, making parents ineligible for full government benefits for not immunizing their children. Youngsters would only be exempt due to medical reasons.

If the law is passed, families could lose up to 15,000 Australian dollars ($11,000) per child per year in tax and child care benefits starting January 1, 2016, if their children are not inoculated. [1]

There has been a rise in unvaccinated children under age 7 in Australia, due to parental concern over the potential side effects of vaccines, and worse. Over the past decade, the number of children under 7 who aren't vaccinated has increased from 24,000 to 39,000. There are reasons for it, too. Encephalopathy, febrile seizures, anaphylaxis and hardening of the brain are two devastating conditions associated with measles immunization. And there are many reported adverse vaccine effects reported (and many more unreported) to the CDC and FDA - known as VAERS.

No matter; Australian legislators are adamant that moms and dads "jab" their kids, despite their well-founded fears.
"The choice made by some families not to vaccinate their children is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of family payments," Social Services Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament.

Arrow Up

A step closer to the end? Syria war prompts pull from doomsday seed vault

© Associated Press Photo/John McConnico
Snow blows off the Svalbard Global Seed Vault before being inaugurated at sunrise.
A seed storage vault built into the side of an Arctic mountain to protect global food supplies in case of global cataclysm is being tapped by researchers in the Middle East who say the Syrian war has devastated their crops.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built in 2008 by the Norwegian government as the world's largest secure seed storage, is intended to protect thousands of varieties of essential food crops against things like nuclear disaster, disease and climate change.

Now, the devastation brought on by the war in Syria, which has raged on for four years and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, has prompted researchers to request some of the samples they gave to the vault, as their collection of crops in Aleppo was destroyed in the fighting.

Among the samples requested by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) crops resistant to drought that could help scientists develop and secure food supplies in the face of climate change in dry areas worldwide.

Protecting the world's biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault," said Brian Lainoff, spokesman for the Crop Trust, which runs the underground store, located on a Norwegian island 1,300 km (800 miles) from the North Pole.


Sierra Leone health authorities quarantine 700 after new Ebola death

Health authorities in Sierra Leone said Tuesday they had quarantined almost 700 people as they battled to contain a new outbreak of Ebola which killed a 16-year-old girl.

The teenager died Sunday in a rural suburb of the city of Makeni, in a northern province that had not recorded a single case of the deadly virus in nearly six months.

"Over 680 people in the village of Robureh are now under a 21-day quarantine," Amadu Thullah, a spokesman for the local Ebola response centre told AFP.

The centre said those locked down included her parents, close relatives and classmates.

"They are classified as high risk although they have not exhibited any signs and symptoms of the disease," added health ministry spokesman Seray Turay.

"The surveillance team of the Ebola response centre have intensified their investigations and is working to nip the issue in the bud."

The girl's death came two weeks after a 67-year-old food trader was killed by the tropical fever in the neighbouring district of Kambia, but the two outbreaks are not linked.

The National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) said 1,524 people were in quarantine across the two districts.


First ever bubonic plague case documented in Michigan

First ever bubonic plague case confirmed in Michigan
Under a low magnification of 96X, this hematoxylin-eosin stained (H&E) photomicrograph reveals some of the histopathologic changes seen in a lymph node tissue sample in a case of fatal human plague. Note the medullary necrosis accompanied by fluid due to the presence of Yersinia pestis bacteria.
A Michigan resident has contracted the rare, life-threatening bubonic plague — the first documented case in Michigan's public health history, state officials confirmed.

The Marquette County adult is recovering after apparently contracting the flea-borne illness during a trip to Colorado. Officials are reassuring the public there is no cause for alarm, despite the disease's connection to the microorganism that caused the Black Death plague in Europe in the 1300s, killing millions and reshaping history.

"It's same organism but, in this case, the infection resides in a lymph node," said Dr. Terry Frankovich, medical director for the Marquette County Health Department.

The bubonic plague, in fact, is notably marked by one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes, usually in the groin, armpit or neck.

With the bubonic plague, people are most often infected by bites from infected fleas or when they have direct contact with the tissues or body fluids from an infected animal. The highest risk is in settings that offer food and shelter for rodents — campsites and cabins, for example, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

The Michigander's case did not develop into the more contagious pneumonic form of the plague. Pneumonic plague may be passed between humans, infecting the lungs and causing a rapidly developing pneumonia that can lead to respiratory failure and shock, according to the CDC.

A third form, septicemic, occurs when the plague organism multiplies in the blood, and it can lead to shock, organ failure and — as in the case of a Colorado teen earlier this year — death.

Comment: New Light on the Black Death: The Viral and Cosmic Connection