New blood tests can detect prions

Tine Hesman Saey of Science News reports a new blood test can detect even tiny amounts of infectious proteins called prions, two new studies show.

prion-test-dec-16Incurable prion diseases, such as mad cow disease (BSE) in cattle and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in people, result from a normal brain protein called PrP twisting into a disease-causing “prion” shape that kills nerve cells in the brain. As many as 30,000 people in the United Kingdom may be carriers of prions that cause vCJD, presumably picked up by eating BSE-tainted beef. Health officials worry infected people could unwittingly pass prions to others through blood transfusions. Four such cases have already been recorded. But until now, there has been no way to screen blood for the infectious proteins.

In the test, described December 21 in Science Translational Medicine, magnetic nanobeads coated with plasminogen — a protein that prions grab onto — trap prions. Washing the beads gets rid of the rest of the substances in the blood. Researchers then add normal PrP to the beads. If any prions are stuck to the beads, the infectious proteins will convert PrP to the prion form, which will also stick to the beads. After many rounds, the researchers could amplify the signal enough to detect vCJD prions in all the people in the studies known to have the disease.

No healthy people or people with other degenerative brain diseases (including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) in either study had evidence of the infectious proteins in their blood. And only one of 83 people with a sporadic form of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease tested positive. Those results indicate that the test is specific to the vCJD prion form, so a different test is needed to detect the sporadic disease. 

In two cases, researchers detected prions in frozen blood samples collected 31 months and 16 months before people developed vCJD symptoms.

6 sick with Campy linked to raw milk in UK

Six cases of campylobacter have so far been linked to people consuming unpasteurised milk from Low Sizergh Barn Farm in Kendal.

low-sizergh-barn-farm-in-kendalSouth Lakeland Council said it had launched a joint investigation with the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The farm said it was co-operating with the inquiry and had suspended sales of raw milk from a vending machine.

Public Health England (PHE) also asked anyone who had bought raw milk from the farm or visited its tearoom in the past two months to complete an online questionnaire.

The farm, which began offering unpasteurised milk from its vending machine in March, sells about 70 litres a day.

In August the farm won a National Trust fine farm produce award for its unpasteurised milk.

Crypto hits NSW pools

As we chill (sweat) in the sleepy haven of South Golden Beach in New South Wales for a brief Christmas break, health authorities report Cryptosporidium has sickened at least 200 people in December and are warning people with diarrhea to stay out of shared pools.

sorenne-south-golden-beach-16The Sydney Morning Herald reports almost half of the cases were in children under 10-years-old. 

Health authorities have issued the warning urging people to stay out of shared swimming pools and water parks.

The biggest outbreak of cryptosporidiois was recorded in Sydney in 1998, when there were more than 1,000 confirmed cases.

Sydney was forced to boil its drinking water because it was found to be infected with the pathogens cryptosporidium and giardia.

Golden Ponds to reopen after bad gravy sickens 260

Golden Ponds Restaurant in suburban Rochester, New York – Rochester, who goes to Rochester — has been cleared by the health department to reopen, after 260 people were sickened after eating Thanksgiving dinner.

doug-turkey-cater_-nov_-16-300x225The restaurant will most likely be open for business starting next Tuesday, according to the owner.

The Monroe County Department of Health shut the restaurant down the day after Thanksgiving, after 60 people initially reported illnesses following eating food from Golden Ponds.

According to the health department, lab results point to an outbreak of Clostridium perfringens.

Officials say it is “most likely” that the gravy served was the source of the bacteria. They also noted that lapses in food safety practices were observed during their investigation.

Golden Ponds had previously been inspected several times in the months leading up to the outbreak, and had violations including food being stored at improper temperatures.

107 hospitalized after spaghetti meal in Philippines

Thanks to one of our readers for forwarding the following item by Odessa O. Leyson of The Freeman:

spaghetti-cebu-philepinnesAt least 107 residents of Sitio Tawagan in the mountain barangay of Sirao, Cebu City landed in the hospital Tuesday due to diarrhea and severe dehydration.

Nagiel Bañacia, head of the city’s disaster team, said the city health office is now looking into information that the residents suffered from the ailments after eating spaghetti given by an owner of a flower farm there.

Bañacia is withholding the identity of the farm owner until investigation is concluded.

He said the disaster team had to go up the barangay Tuesday night after receiving reports several of those affected were medicating themselves. Many residents have already sought help at the Guba Community Hospital at this point.

The Guba Community Hospital can accommodate only 50 patients, which was why four other doctors, eight nurses, and medical technologists had to be deployed there.

Bañacia said the city government will shoulder the hospital expenses using the disaster fund.

 

Cook it: Toxo in pork

Toxoplasma gondii is one of the leading foodborne pathogens in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that T. gondii accounts for 24% of deaths due to foodborne illness in the United States.

raw-meat-120607Consumption of undercooked pork products in which T. gondii has encysted has been identified as an important route of human exposure. However, little quantitative evaluation of risk due to different pork products as a function of microbial quality at the abattoir, during the production process, and due to consumer handling practices is available to inform risk management actions.

The goal of this study was to develop a farm-to-table quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) model to predict the public health risk associated with consumption of fresh pork in the United States.

T. gondii prevalence in pigs was derived through a meta-analysis of existing data, and the concentration of the infectious life stage (bradyzoites) was calculated for each pork cut from an infected pig. Logistic regression and log-linear regression models were developed to predict the reduction of T. gondii during further processing and consumer preparation, respectively. A mouse-derived exponential dose-response model was used to predict infection risk in humans. The estimated mean probability of infection per serving of fresh pork products ranges from 3.2 × 10−7 to 9.5 × 10−6, corresponding to a predicted approximately 94,600 new infections annually in the U.S. population due to fresh pork ingestion. Approximately 957 new infections per year were estimated to occur in pregnant women, corresponding to 277 cases of congenital toxoplasmosis per year due to fresh pork ingestion.

In the context of available data, sensitivity analysis suggested that cooking is the most important parameter impacting human health risk. This study provides a scientific basis for risk management and also could serve as a baseline model to quantify infection risk from T. gondii and other parasites associated with meat products.

Quantifying the risk of human Toxoplasma gondii infection due to consumption of fresh pork in the United States

Food Control, Volume 73, Part B, March 2017, Pages 1210–1222

Miao Guo, Elisabetta Lambertini, Robert L. Buchanan, Jitender P. Dubey, Dolores E. Hill, H. Ray Gamble, Jeffrey L. Jones, Abani K. Pradhan

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713516305825

Campy increasing in Sweden

An unusually high number of people have been struck by Campylobacter in Sweden this winter, resulting in a less than festive combination of vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pains.

vomit-birdThe number of infections usually peaks during the late summer months then drops off, but this year has yet to see a notable downward curve, Sweden’s Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) warns.

The growth coincides with an increase in campylobacter among flocks of chicken in Sweden, and fresh chicken is therefore thought to be a culprit.

 “The explanation we have right now is that we eat a lot of chicken. We eat a lot of fresh chicken, and campylobacter can be found in the fresh chicken to a certain extent,” Folkhälsomyndigheten spokesperson Britta Björkholm noted.

“If you’re not careful with your hygiene you risk coming down with it,” she added.

Between August and November 2016 twice as many cases were reported as normal, and that pattern has continued into the last month of the year.

About 100 cases are usually reported in December, but in December 2016 the number was almost 300 by the middle of the month.

“People are not being sufficiently careful about separating raw chicken from utensils and work surfaces,” Björkholm insisted.

Irony can be ironic: 70 staff members ill after NM Department of Health luncheon

Andrew Oxford of The New Mexican reports that epidemiologists at the state Department of Health are investigating their agency’s own annual holiday luncheon after dozens of employees reported falling ill after the party last week.

barfAbout 70 staff members claim to have experienced gastrointestinal issues following the catered event at the Harold Runnels Building attended by more than 200 employees, according to a spokesman.

Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher wrote in an email to staff Monday that investigators have not identified a specific food from the party that may have caused the outbreak.

A team from the department’s Epidemiology and Response Division “believes that there may have been cross-contamination of menu items served during the luncheon,” she wrote.

Epidemiologists were still waiting for laboratory test results as of Monday, but Gallagher told staff the outbreak appears to have been caused by Bacillus cereus or Clostridium perfringens, toxins that can cause foodborne illness.

“We will work to take appropriate steps to address food handling procedures with the caterer and prevent such problems in the future,” wrote, Gallagher.

Spokesman Paul Rhien said the event was catered by a local business, but he did not specify which one when asked by a reporter to identify the company.

Tragic Thanksgiving outbreak linked to Clostridium perfringens 

It’s deja vu all over again. In November 2015 over 40 fell ill with Clostridium perfringens in my home state of North Carolina following a Thanksgiving community meal.

The caterer failed to keep the hot foods hot according to the investigation report in MMWR:

Turkeys were cooked approximately 10 hours before lunch, placed in warming pans, and plated in individual servings. Food was then delivered by automobile, which required multiple trips. After cooking and during transport, food sat either in warming pans or at ambient temperature for up to 8 hours. No temperature monitoring was conducted after cooking.

Today, according to the LA Times, perfringens has been linked to another Thanksgiving outbreak. This one was fatal.thanksgiving-dinner-1_0

Health officials say common foodborne bacteria caused an illness that left three people dead and sickened 22 others who attended a Thanksgiving dinner at an events hall in Antioch, Calif.

Officials identified the three people who died as 43-year-old Christopher Cappetti, 59-year-old Chooi Keng Cheah, and 69-year-old Jane Evans. All were residents of assisted living facilities in Antioch.

From a Contra Costa County press release:

A laboratory at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) confirmed the presence of the bacteria in stool samples taken from people sickened by food served at the Nov. 24 holiday celebration, held by a community church at Antioch’s American Legion auditorium.

“Our investigation was not able to determine exactly what people ate that made them sick. But after extensive interviews we found most of the ill people ate turkey and mashed potatoes and they all ate around the same time. Some dishes served at the event, including cooked turkey, were brought to the site after they were prepared in private homes,” said Dr. Marilyn Underwood, CCHS Environmental Health director.

 

We’re all hosts on a viral planet virome edition

The X-files movie was on the other night – the 1998 one – featuring bad dialogue, overwrought music, mysterious scientists and a mutated virus originally delivered by extraterrestrials.

bacteriophageAt the same time I was reading how scientists at the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA) in Spain have carried out a comprehensive analysis of several viromes from different habitats to explore whether bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria) harbor antibiotic resistance genes.

The team demonstrated that while human-associated viromes do not or rarely carry resistance genes, viromes from non-human sources (e.g., pig feces, raw sewage, and freshwater and marine environments) contain a large reservoir of resistance genes. Their work is described in the journal Environmental Pollution (1).

“These findings suggest that phages may play a more significant role in the acquisition and mobilization of antibiotic resistance genes than previously expected”, says Dr. Jose L. Balcazar, a Ramon y Cajal research scientist and senior author of the study.

Of course they do: We’re all hosts on a viral planet.

In this study, several viromes (community of viruses) from humans, animals, and different environments worldwide were screened for sequences similar to those associated with antibiotic resistance genes. The results showed that genes encoding major facilitator superfamily transporters and beta-lactamases were found in all analysed viromes regardless their origin. The presence of these resistance genes in bacteriophages is of particular concern, because these genes may eventually be transferred to bacteria, making them resistant to antibiotics. Considering that bacteriophages have the potential to transfer genetic material between bacteria, they play an important role in the evolution and ecology of bacterial species. However, the contribution of bacteriophages to the acquisition and spread of antibiotic resistance has been partially explored in environmental settings. So these findings suggest that the role of bacteriophages should be taken into account in the development of strategies for tackling antibiotic resistance. This work was funded by the first joint call of the Water Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) and the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

Published articles

Lekunberri I., Subirats J., Borrego C.M., Balcazar J.L. (2016) “Exploring the contribution of bacteriophages to antibiotic resistance”. Environmental Pollution. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.11.059

 “Wastewater treatment plant discharges can promote the development of antibiotic resistance in streams” [PDF]. Science for Environment Policy of the European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service.