We’re all hosts on a viral planet: Scientists unlock exact structure of Hepatitis A

That was barroom discussion in graduate school 30 years ago, but not all hosts die because then there’d be no where for the viruses to have babies..

hep.a.infographicHeady stuff.

Scientists have announced that for the first time, they have determined the precise atomic structure of the Hepatitis A virus. In an unprecedented step forward, a team of scientists from Beijing and Oxford have been able to map the exact construction of Hepatitis A, down to the individual atoms. This new finding is a considerable advance for research into Hep A, one of the most resilient and difficult to control viruses and more broadly for our understanding of the virus world. The findings are published today, in the publication Nature.

Despite an existing vaccine, Hep A continues to infect 1.4 million people every year. It causes infection of the liver and symptoms can include diarrhoea, vomiting, yellow skin, fever, and abdominal pain. These findings are particularly significant due to the unique qualities of the virus. Hep A is particularly hardy unlike other viruses in the picornavirus family, which includes polio and the common cold. Hep A is able to withstand remarkably high temperatures and remain stable in hostile environments, making it difficult to control infection. It also has a unique, enveloped form, allowing it to shroud itself in the host membrane, making it harder for the body’s immune system to detect.

This discovery is ground-breaking in terms of what it reveals about the history and evolution of viruses. The findings suggest that Hep A may be the evolutionary ‘missing link’ between picornaviruses, which infect humans and animals, and some insect viruses.

By scrutinising the atomic structure of the virus, the team from the University of Oxford identified that Hep A possesses characteristics of both ancient insect viruses and modern human viruses such as polio. The methods by which it infects host cells, the very limited range of cells in which it thrives and the sheer stability of Hepatitis A all point towards it having somehow become stuck along the evolutionary trail. Where other viruses in the same picornavirus family developed into the structures we know today, Hepatitis A has remained forever frozen between the old and the new.

Hep A has proved difficult to study in the past. Using the advanced X-ray techniques at the UK’s synchrotron science facility, Diamond Light Source, scientists were able to study the virgech_0001_0002_0_img0129us at an atomic level. Diamond Light Source, is the UK’s national synchrotron, a giant x-ray machine the size of Wembley Stadium. It is the largest science machine the UK has ever built and produces a light 10 billion times brighter than the sun. 3,500 scientists and industry users from the UK and across the world, visit the synchrotron every year, to carry out cutting-edge scientific research.

Viruses are some of the oldest and most pervasive elements of the natural world. There are more viruses on Earth than all bacteria, plant and animal life combined, and they can evolve much faster than any living thing. Because they are so diverse and develop so quickly, it can be difficult to work out how they are related and how they evolved. Scientists know enough to group similar viruses into different families, but the question of their history and how these families came to exist in their current form has been very difficult to unravel.

Recent advances in technology have allowed scientists to look more closely at the structures of challenging viruses. Upgrades to facilities for analysing viruses at the Diamond synchrotron – which produces powerful X-ray light for scientists to use in their research – make it easier for whole viruses to be scrutinised in minute detail. Using Diamond’s crystallography ‘beamlines’ the group has uncovered vital new insights into how viruses have evolved.

Dave Stuart, Professor of Structural Biology at Oxford University and Head of Life Sciences for Diamond Light Source led the research into Hepatitis A. He points out exactly why these findings are so significant: “Viruses are too small and fragile to leave a fossil record, and change so quickly that many people would despair of piecing together the story of their evolution, so it is wonderful to see that their intricate details show mechanisms that form missing links between different families.”

The message is clear: the more we know about virus history and relationships, the more prepared we are to tackle viruses that pose a serious threat now and in the future; that’s why it’s so important to understand the fundamental atomic processes required for a virus to replicate and survive. This underpinning knowledge is the groundwork for the next stage, the production of improved vaccines and effective anti-viral drugs. Using advanced new technology such as Diamond, scientists are able to unpick the mysteries of even the most enigmatic viruses, atom by atom.

The findings are published today in the publication Nature. The paper is entitled ‘Hepatitis A virus and the origins of picornaviruses’.

US multistate outbreak of hepatitis A virus infections linked to pomegranate seeds from Turkey (Final Update)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports this outbreak investigation has been finalized and the published report
can be found in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/issue/current http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/Outbreaks/2013/A1b-03-31/index.html

  • 165 people were confirmed to have become ill from hepatitis A after eating ‘Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend’ in 10 states: Arizona (24), California (80), Colorado (29), Hawaii (8), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (11), Nevada (6), Utah (3), and Wisconsin (2). [Note: The cases reported from Wisconsin resulted from exposure to
    the product in California, the cases reported from New Hampshire reported fruit exposure during travel to Nevada, and the case reported in New Jersey was a household contact of a confirmed case from Colorado.] Eight of the confirmed cases were household contacts of confirmed cases (secondary cases).pomegranate
  • 91 (55%) female ill persons
  • Ages ranged from <1 – 84 years;
  • 95 (58%) of those ill were between 40 – 64 years of age.
  • 11 children age 18 or under were also ill. None were previously vaccinated.
  • Illness onset dates ranged from 3/31/2013 – 8/12/2013
  • 69 (42%) ill people were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported
  • All ill people who reported eating this product purchased it from Costco markets; however, the product was also sold at Harris Teeter stores. No ill people were identified that bought the product at Harris Teeter.

Laboratory Investigation:

  • The major outbreak strain of hepatitis A virus, belonging to genotype 1B, was found in clinical specimens of 117 ill persons. This genotype is rarely seen in the Americas but circulates in North Africa and the Middle East.

Regulatory Investigation:

  • By combining information gained from FDA’s traceback and traceforward investigations and the CDC’s epidemiological investigation, FDA and CDC have determined that the most likely vehicle for the hepatitis A virus appears to be a common shipment of pomegranate seeds from a company in Turkey, Goknur Foodstuffs Import Export Trading.
  • FDA has detained all shipments of pomegranate seeds from Goknur when they are offered for import into the United States.
  • These pomegranate seeds were used by Townsend Farms to make the Townsend Farms and Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Blends and by Scenic Fruit Company to make the Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate Kernels.
  • On June 4, 2013, Townsend Farms, Inc. of Fairview, Oregon voluntarily recalled certain lots of its frozen Organic Antioxidant BlendExternal Web Site Icon because of potential hepatitis A virus contamination.
  • On June 28, 2013, Townsend Farms, Inc. of Fairview, Oregon, expanded its voluntary limited lot recall of frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, 3 lbExternal Web Site Icon. because of potential hepatitis A virus contamination.
  • On June 26, 2013, Scenic Fruit Company of Gresham, Oregon recalled specific lots of Woodstock Frozen Organic Pomegranate KernelsExternal Web Site Icon because of potential hepatitis A virus contamination.
  • Additional information regarding these recalls was updated regularly at: FDA Investigates Multistate Outbreak of Hepatitis A Illnesses Associated with Pomegranate seeds from Turkish ImporterExternal Web Site Icon.
  • Consumers should not eat recalled products containing pomegranate seeds. The recalled products should be discarded.

Thousands sickened: Hepatitis A in berries in Europe

In May 2013, Germany reported cases of hepatitis A virus (HAV) genotype IA infection in persons with a travel history and Italy reported a national increase in the number of HAV cases and declared an outbreak.

frozen-berriesConfirmed cases (outbreak strain KF182323) have been reported in Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom (331 in total). HAV contamination was detected in frozen mixed berries (14 lots) and mixed berry cakes/pastries (2 lots) in Italy, France and Norway. In Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden, analysis of food histories and questionnaires identified suspect berries and berry products consumed by confirmed cases. Tracing began with 38 lots/cases from Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, an additional 5 lots/cases were added from France, Norway and Sweden in spring 2014. The tracing data were exchanged via the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.

The final dataset comprises 6227 transactions among 1974 food operators. Bulgarian blackberries and Polish redcurrants were the most common ingredients in the traced lots/cases; however, Poland is the largest producer of redcurrants in Europe, and Bulgaria is a major exporter of frozen blackberries. No single point source of contamination linking all 43 lots/cases could be identified. HAV cases/lots in five countries could be linked to seven Polish freezing processors and/or to five frozen berry suppliers in Bulgaria.

This indicates that HAV contamination could be occurring at the freezing processor or in primary production of berries and therefore compliance with Good Hygiene Practice, Good Manufacturing Practice and Good Agricultural Practice is recommended for countries producing berries for freezing. It is possible that contaminated product related to this outbreak could still be circulating in the food chain. Hence, for the public health domain, enhanced surveillance, risk communication, vaccination and further research are recommended.

Austin, TX Whataburger food handler diagnosed with hepatitis A

If I were a food business owner I’d be worried about hepatitis A. Individuals can shed the virus without showing symptoms and even a Hep A positive handwashing superstar will result in lineups outside the business or at the health department while patrons get their post-exposure shots.images-7
Authors of a 2000 Journal of Food Protection  paper on the cost effectiveness of vaccinating food handlers arrived at the conclusion that the public health benefit of vaccinating for hep A doesn’t equal the costs – but doesn’t factor in all the bad publicity, hassle and incident management costs.
According to KXAN, an Austin outlet of Whataburger the famed Texas fast food chain is going through the crisis stuff right now – and it will cost them business even without patrons getting sick.
Health officials are wanting to alert the public about possible hepatitis A exposure at a Whataburger in Central Austin. A restaurant employee there at the 2800 Guadalupe St. location has been diagnosed with the hepatitis A virus.
 
While health officials say transmission of the infection to customers is not likely, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is recommending people contact their doctor if they ate at that specific Whataburger between Aug. 7 and Tuesday and fit the following criteria:
  • are 75 years old or older
  • are immune-compromised
  • have chronic liver disease or have had a liver transplant
  • have clotting-factor disorders
  • are experiencing hepatitis A symptoms
A bit out of the norm; the usual public health response is to administer protective post-exposure IgG shots to all.

Multistate US outbreak of hepatitis A infection linked to pomegranate seeds from Turkey

In 2013, an outbreak of hepatitis A made 162 people in 10 states sick after they ate a berry blend product purchased at a national chain store.

dsc-3622CDC detected the outbreak on May 15. Scientists promptly applied whole genome sequencing and other advanced analytic methods to establish that not only were the infecting strains identical, but also belonged to an unusual hepatitis A virus genotype that is rare in the United States.

CDC completed its analysis within a week of receiving samples from the first 20 cases. This automated technology proved to be quicker, simpler and more sensitive than if the samples had been processed by previous methods. As the outbreak spread, other cases also were found to be infected by the same viral strain.

Advanced molecular detection helped CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) link this specific strain of the virus with the outbreak investigation data to identify quickly a shipment of pomegranate seeds from Turkey as the source of the outbreak. With this information FDA was able to identify the company selling the seeds and take action to ensure shipments were stopped until checked. FDA worked with pomegranate seed distributors to make sure all recipients were notified.

A public announcement about the risk related to the product was made on May 31. Local public health departments and the retail chain that sold the product vaccinated more than 10,000 people as a precaution in case someone had been exposed.

Advanced molecular detection methods helped stop this outbreak in its tracks in record time, better protecting the health of the public.

Hepatitis A incident leads Colorado restaurant to make vaccinations for staff mandatory

Ft. Collins Colarodo is home of New Belgium beer, Colorado State University, and a restaurant that has been stung by having a food handler test positive with Hepatitis A. According to thedenverchannel.comTortilla Marissa’s North of the Border Cafe is closed until public health folks give them the okay to reopen.TortillaMarissas_1403912791692_6553175_ver1.0_640_480

A food worker employed at restaurant at 2635 S. College Ave., tested positive for Hepatitis A, a disease that might be passed to others through food directly handled by the employee before any symptoms appeared, according to the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.

Officials said diners who consumed food or drinks — either dine-in or take-out — from the restaurant in the past 14 days could benefit from getting a Hepatitis A vaccination or Immune Globulin injection to reduce the risk of illness.

Shots can be obtained from private health care providers or at two special clinics the Health Department will be holding on Sunday and Monday specifically for those potentially exposed  to Hepatitis A through the restaurant.

According to a statement released by the restaurant, they are making Hep A vaccinations mandatory for their staff.

We have instituted some new procedures including all future staff will be required to get an Hepatitis A vaccination before being allowed to work at Tortilla Marissa’s;  we have written a new employee sick policy based on best practices from around the country; and created some new systems in the kitchen. All of these practices exceed the standards set by the Larimer County Health Department as we are committed to our patrons health.

Now market it, so consumers know at retail; nearly all Westside melon handlers now certified

Tom Burfield of The Packer reports that as California’s Westside cantaloupe industry kicks off its second season under a safety inspection program, nearly all of the state’s cantaloupe handlers have received the required certification, said John Gilstrap, manager of the Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board.

cantaloupe.washGilstrap said that, to his knowledge, the cantaloupe marketing order that took effect in 2013 is “the only one in the produce industry that invites government auditors to inspect all aspects of the operation.”

To be certified, growers and handlers must comply with a 156-point checklist. If they don’t, they have to make corrections and be reinspected.

They’re also required to have a traceback system.

Names of certified handlers are listed on the board’s website, calcantaloupes.com. Companies that are decertified also will be listed, Gilstrap said, but companies that are pending certification will not be.

Hepatitis A warning for patrons of Jerusalem hotel

Health officials in Israel are issuing a warning for patrons of the Eyal Hotel in downtown Jerusalem after an employee was diagnosed with hepatitis A, according to a Yeshiva World report today. The employee was a cook with the hotel on Shamai Street.

hepatitis.AHealth officials are asking guests who ate breakfast in the hotel between the 18th and 23rd of May to report to their family physician if they were not vaccinated in the past. The warning states the vaccine can still be helpful at this time and it is advised to act as quickly as possible in the matter.

Red Robin has second hepatitis A incident in two weeks, this time in Missouri

Two weeks ago I wrote that I were a food business owner I’d be worried about hepatitis A.

Individuals can shed the virus without showing symptoms and even a Hep A positive handwashing superstar will result in lineups outside the business or at the health department while patrons get their post-exposure shots.RedRobinLogo1-300x214

Authors of a 2000 Journal of Food Protection paper on the cost effectiveness of vaccinating food handlers arrived at the conclusion that the public health benefit of vaccinating for hep A doesn’t outweigh the costs – but doesn’t factor in all the bad publicity, hassle and incident management costs. The stuff that a Stroudsburg, PA Red Robin restaurant is going through right now.

The corporate Red Robin folks must be working overtime, as an identical situation has popped up at a Missouri outlet of the chain. Same story, different location. According to USA Today, up to 5,000 may have been exposed to hepatitis A following after a food handler was diagnosed with the virus.

Health officials worry that as many as 5,000 people could have been exposed to hepatitis A at a Red Robin restaurant here after a worker was diagnosed with the virus.

Springfield-Greene County Health Department officials received a report Tuesday about the illness, which can affect the liver, and worked with state and federal officials to get enough vaccine shipped so people who went to the restaurant May 8 to 16 can be immunized.

The goal is to get as many customers vaccinated within 14 days of their possible exposure, officials said Wednesday. Otherwise, the shot won’t work, so they’ve set up clinics through the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

“Upon being informed of the incident, the Springfield Red Robin took all safety measures to ensure the well being of our guests and team members including arranging the inoculation of all Springfield team members with the immune globulin prophylaxis shot,” Red Robin Gourmet Burgers officials said in a statement.

Wonder how many incidents it takes for a company to tip the scales to benefit outweighing cost on providing or requiring food handlers to have a hep A vaccination.

Hamptons residents not pleased: Hep A restaurant offers to host Kardashians

Kim, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian have found a site for their Dash store in The Hamptons.

Restauranteur Irma Herzog – whose Driver’s Seat Restaurant was investigated last year after an employee was diagnosed with hepatitis A – has risked the wrath of local residents in Southampton by “betraying” the upmarket village and leasing an art gallery space adjacent to her eatery to the sisters, who are planning to spend the summer in the resort for new reality show ‘Kourtney & Khloe Take The Hamptons’.

Kourtney-and-Khloe-Take-The-HamptonsOne outraged source told the New York Post newspaper: “Southamptonites are abuzz that Irma Herzog has betrayed their village . . . Will Irma also be bringing back another bout of hepatitis?

“Now she brings trash to her backyard. People are lining up to buy Irma’s property and get her out of town. She is a piranha.”