infectious disease

The reason there is no universal flu vaccine is because the influenza virus constantly changes. That's why we get jabbed with a new vaccine every season; the vaccine from the previous year is unlikely to work against the strains of flu circulating this year.

The hunt for a universal influenza vaccine is based on targeting parts of the virus that don't change. In theory, antibodies generated against these portions of the virus should confer protection against all influenza viruses. Whoever develops and successfully demonstrates such a vaccine should win a Nobel Prize.

But this may not be the only strategy for the creation of universal vaccines. Indeed, a team of researchers who are concerned by mosquito-borne illnesses has described a very clever idea for the development...

The exhaled breath or “blow” squirted from the Eastern Australian humpback whale is replete with its own viral ecosystem or virome. Until now, understanding the “diversity, evolution and disease associations” of viruses in such natural habitats as an aquatic environment has posed quite the challenge for scientists when such marine wildlife is logistically inaccessible. With the help of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones, researchers were able to capture samples of this elusive whale to study.  

Their recently published findings revealed a number of new viruses from five different viral families. It is likely this was the first study of this kind to use drones for...

Unless they're eradicated smallpox-style, infectious diseases never disappear. Like an unlucky penny, they can show up at any time.

The reason is because most microbes can survive elsewhere, either in the environment or other animals or both, a concept known as a "reservoir." That is why prevention is the key to public health. And prevention is achieved primarily through practices such as vaccination, water chlorination, pasteurization, sanitation, and good personal hygiene (as well as common sense). If we take away any one of these practices, we can expect relatively rare infectious diseases to come back. Three stories serve to underscore this crucial lesson.

Rabies in Seattle

Recently, a bat was lying on the ground on the University of Washington...

It's easy to get sick during a flight, right?

With the recycled air and all of those people cramped together - isn't a plane basically a flying petri dish?

One research team from Emory University decided to look at just how likely it is to pick up an infectious disease during a flight, and what the factors are that could make the difference between walking off of the flight infected or not. Their findings are surprising, with a big factor being your assigned seat.

The main transmission route for airborne diseases such as influenza and SARS are respiratory droplets. These can travel through the air when someone coughs, sneezes, etc. The researchers estimate that two passengers would have to be within one meter of each other for transmission to occur.  

The...

A new CDC report says that, in 2017, there were 9,093 new cases of tuberculosis in the United States.

Like most other infectious diseases, tuberculosis never "went away." It's still with us, but it's mostly under control in developed countries. Elsewhere, it's a different story. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is the #9 leading cause of death worldwide, killing an estimated 1.3 million people in 2016. That's worse than HIV/AIDS.

Tuberculosis has a very strange history, detailed nicely by Michael Barrett in an essay for Aeon. Because tuberculosis destroys the lungs...

The Spanish Flu of 1918, which caused a pandemic, is estimated to have killed about 2% of the world population, a death toll greater than the military deaths of World War I and World War II combined. Though they obviously would have lacked the technology and healthcare to do much about it, was there any way that public health officials could have foreseen that global plague?

Yes, possibly, suggests a new paper in the journal Annals of Epidemiology. A mostly mild wave of influenza cases early in 1918 could have served as a herald of the doom to come later that year.

In the northern hemisphere,...

What's the biggest, deadliest threat the world faces today? How a person answers that question reveals a lot about them.

Epidemiologists and microbiologists fear pandemics, economists fret over depressions, and foreign policy analysts fear war. Political partisans will often say something flip -- like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton -- but the upside is that you no longer have to take that individual seriously.

Those who fancy themselves enlightened are likely to answer climate change, but like Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb, this is simply the apocalypse du jour. Climate change is a slow-moving threat whose consequences are in the...

Government intelligence agencies get a lot of criticism when things go wrong but rarely receive any praise when things go right. That's because, when things go wrong, they often go disastrously wrong; but when things go right... well, nothing happens.

For example, it seems clear that the latest school shooting in Florida might have been prevented if the FBI had acted properly on the intelligence it received. The FBI failed, and they are being widely castigated. But think of all the times the FBI successfully intervenes and stops a criminal or terrorist before he is able to act. Those victories usually go unreported.

The same is true of public health officials. The CDC and state and local health departments almost never get praised for the fact that life-threatening...

Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that causes a life-threatening infection. According to the CDC, it is responsible for about 500,000 infections and 15,000 to 29,000 deaths every year in the United States.

Though the bacterium can infect healthy individuals, it is of particular concern to those who are hospitalized or are taking antibiotics. Antibiotics can wipe out the normal flora of the gut, and C. difficile is happy to fill the vacuum. An infection with this pathogen can cause horrible cramping and 10 to 15 episodes of watery diarrhea per...

As tempting as it is, freaking out about most anything -- especially infectious diseases -- tends to render us useless and is not in our best interest. In recent years, Zika and Ebola caused a stir, even a national hysteria. Now, monkeypox has arrived on the media scene.

With a catchy name hearkening back to images of smallpox and its devastation, this animal moniker only makes it all more exotic and worrisome. But, like most infectious agents, informing yourself about its origin, mode of spread and emphasizing proper precautions for disease prevention will allow your concerns to subside.

So, before The Washington Post freaks you out with this...