Monday, August 03, 2009

Plagues And Pestilence

Well, when you weren't looking, yet another nasty bug pops up on the radar...

BEIJING — Officials have sealed off an isolated town of 10,000 people in rural west-central China after an outbreak of pneumonic plague killed two residents, the state-run Xinhua news service reported on Monday.

An official who answered the emergency line at Renmin Hospital in Ziketan, where the outbreak is centered, said that all roads into and out of the area had been closed off, but that residents remained free to move about within the town. The official, who refused to give his name, said it was unclear when the blockade would be lifted. Repeated calls to a plague emergency phone line produced only busy signals.

Pneumonc plague is airborne, as opposed to its cousin, the bubonic plague, which is transferred by flea bites. It usually occurs in rural areas (the US has about 15 cases a year) where bacteria forms in the dung of livestock and then is aerosolized in some fashion. Without the proper treatment, antibiotics within 24 hours of symptoms appearing, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.
So now we're tracking swine flu, avian flu, the plague and in addition to all these, there's a new form of HIV floating around, which will upend current scientific assumptions:

Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) -- A new strain of the virus that causes AIDS has been identified in an African woman and researchers say it appears to be the first to be transmitted to humans from gorillas instead of chimpanzees.

The 62-year-old woman infected with the new strain of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, comes from the West African nation of Cameroon and now lives in Paris. She has no symptoms of AIDS, according to today's report in the journal Nature from researchers at the University of Rouen in France.

The new strain, known as HIV-1, group P, is different enough from three previously identified strains that it can't be detected by conventional laboratory tests, said Paul Sharp, a geneticist who studies AIDS at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The new form of the virus is unlikely to spread to large numbers of people, he said.

Sharp goes onto say that he doesn't believe this strain will be widespread or highly infectious. Then again, in the early 1980s, scientists thought AIDS was some "gay plague" limited only to unprotected sex.
When even keeping your hands clean can promote getting sick, you know things are a bit scary.