Infections

Using communication to fight epidemics

During epidemics, pandemics, natural or environmental disasters, the problem of communication is one of the primary issues to deal with, and scientists and stakeholders know this well. It is a two-sided issue: communicating risk without creating any alarms, and an effective communication between persons who manage emergencies.

Just one move to ward off flu. An Italian discovery

As every year, the winter season is synonymous of influenza viruses causing health problems and significant economic losses for public and private companies. One small, but not negligible, percentage will incur in complications and, potentially, there will also be an increase in mortality for new-borns and elderly patients, caused by the same virus. The vaccine against the seasonal influenza virus strain protects with an effectiveness estimated between 75 and 80 percent – therefore quite good – but not complete.

Pathogens and fear: the double epidemics

From bats to horses, from insects to chimpanzees, a lot of deadly viruses originated in an animal host. In his last book, Spillover, the American science writer David Quammen tells the stories of some of these viruses. We reached him at the Festival della Scienza in Genoa, where he was going to present the book, and asked him some questions.

The (un)health that surrounds Ebola

It is known that a virus like Ebola finds an ideal breeding ground of infection in weak healthcare systems. However, the fear of a large-scale European contagion is spreading. Although it is true that Ebola is really frightening, it is equally true that a comparison between a country such as Italy and countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea is at least difficult to maintain. Tuberculosis, Malaria, HIV, low rates of vaccinations: the African ecosystem in which Ebola has developed is crippled, and the majority of its inhabitants are highly exposed to infections. How much crippled?

Close encounters of the third kind

In the globalised environment, the interconnection and interdependence of economies enable pathogens to spread in unprecedented ways and extents. Human to human transmission (close encounters of the first kind) occur with pathogens that are well adapted to the human host, and spread between countries and continents. In a similar way, pathogens spreading between animals (close encounters of the second kind) spread not only within a farm, but also between different farms, due to trade, or live animals or vector movement, in a transboundary manner.

What Ebola taught us about risk communication

Each outbreak has some lessons to teach to those involved in health crisis management, especially in terms of risk communication. In fact, any infectious disease can become much more dangerous when supported by wrong or missing information. On the one hand, misinformation can spread far and fast, especially online, often crossing geographic borders before local organisations have ramped up their response to an outbreak. On the other hand, the lack of proper information about, for instance, how people get infected, may slow down efforts to contain the diffusion of the disease.

The arms race between humans and microbes

A future without effective antibiotics for some infections is possible. Only 70 years ago, penicillin discovery have changed infectious diseases treatment, reducing deaths and illness. However, the high microbial adaptability has appeared few years later drug discovery: already in his Nobel Prize speech in 1945, Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, warned that bacteria could become resistant to these remarkable substances. Between 1940 and 1990, 29 classes of antibiotics with different mechanisms of action have been discovered and designed.

An overview on the global response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic

In a review on the New England Journal of Medicine, Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine and chair of an international committee requested by the World Health Organization (WHO), analyzed the global response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, giving particular attention to the function of the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR) and the performance of the WHO.

Semantic phylogenesis of H3N2 viruses

A deep understanding of the relation between genetic mutations and immune system response of the attacked organism is vital for the development of effective vaccinations for specific variations of the influenza virus.

The formulation of a theory that associates immunological response to phylogenetic evolution of the virus stands on the definition of a genetic distance – calculated between aminoacid sequences – able to quantify antigenic diversity among the corresponding pathogens.

Two sides of the same coin

Everything started at the beginning of September in San Francisco, at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, when Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an influenza expert at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, took the floor to speak about her work. A work that ground its roots during the 2009 flu pandemic, when people who got a flu shot for the 2008-09 winter seemed to be more likely to get infected with the pandemic virus than people who hadn't received a flu shot. Dr.

Copper kills bacteria: end of hospital-acquired infections?

Prof. Hans Bärlocher left the hospital after a long working day. Outside the building, he took a deep breath of fresh Spring air; then, he smelled his right hand. Yes, it had the faint, but typical copper smell. This reassured him that he had not pick up any germs when going through the series of doors to leave the clinic. All the doors in his hospital had recently been refitted with door handles and push plates of antimicrobial copper.