Pathogen of the Month
November pathogen of the month:
What is it? Anthrax is a serious bacterial infection affecting people who come into contact with bacillus anthracis, generally by way of infected animals or contaminated animal products. Moreover, domestic and wild animals can become infected when they inhale or ingest spores—an environmentally resistant form of the bacteria -- in contaminated soil, plants or water. The CDC says anthrax can be acquired in four ways: by skin-to-skin contact, by inhalation of spores, by eating the spores, or by injection.
Who is at risk? Most people will never be exposed to anthrax. However, Some daily activitiies can pose a greater risk of exposure. Those activities involve people whose careers involve handling animals: veterinarians, livestock producers, and laboratory professionals. Wild fauna – hippopotami, antelopes, zebras and otters -- are regularly exposed, and can redistribute the bacteria. Anthrax can also be passed by contact via the use of products made from dried animal skins such as drums if the raw materials for those items came from an endemic area. During a bioterror event, the risk also exists for mail handlers, military personnel and response workers.
Weaponized Anthrax: Because they can be easily produced in a lab, anthrax spores can be weaponized. The spores can be released quietly and without anyone’s knowledge by their introduction into sprays, food and water.
What is the current status? Last month, outbreaks of anthrax were reported in India and Kenya. In Kenya, the outbreak was reported in a village where it was hoped the damage would be confined to animals. That was not the case in India, where the outbreak began in mid-month. At least seven serious cases of anthrax in humans were reported after the victims came in contact with meat from infected cattle. There, animal husbandry officials undertook a vaccination drive or cattle in a six-mile radius of the affected village on what was described as a “war footing.”
How serious can it be? Bacillus anthracis is designated by the U.S. government as a “Tier 1” agent because it presents “the greatest risk of deliberate misuse with significant potential for mass casualties or devastating effect to the economy, critical infrastructure, or public confidence.” Anthrax is a versatile agent. In 2001 spores were placed in letters and mailed. It can also be released into the air from a truck, building or plane.
Is there a vaccine? A vaccine does exist, but it is currently provided only to people understood to be at an increased risk of coming in contact with anthrax spores. The vaccine is not licensed for children under 18, pregnant or nursing women, or adults over age 65.
Are there effective treatments? Anthrax can be efficiently treated by trained medical personnel with the use of appropriate antibiotics. Once anthrax toxins have been released into the body, antitoxins can also be used with other treatment to counteract the disease’s impact.
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October pathogen of the month:
African swine fever
What is it?
African swine fever is a highly contagious hemorrhagic disease of domestic pigs and wild boar. It is characterized by high fever, loss of appetite, hemorrhages in the skin and internal organs, and death in 2-10 days with most isolates. Mortality rates may be as high as 100%.
The organism which causes ASF is a DNA virus of the Asfarviridae family. Due to the high mortality rate and absence of any vaccine, it can have a tremendous economic consequence for the pork production industry. However, humans are not susceptible to ASF.
What is the current status?
The disease has been endemic across sub-Saharan Africa and eastern Europe, and a few months ago found its way eastward into China and westward into Belgium. Those facts concerned those involved in the pork industry due to the fact that China produces nearly half the world’s pork.
Apart from the outbreaks in China and Belgium, ongoing ASF outbreaks have also been reported during September in the following countries: Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, Latvia, Russia and Bulgaria.
How serious can it be?
Due to its potential impact on the world’s food supply, ASF is considered to be a serious economic threat. That threat is intensified by the ease with which ASF appears to spread, apparently being cared by populations of wild boars that obviously have the ability to cross even closely monitored international borders.
What is CEEZAD doing about African swine fever?
The efforts to enhance general knowledge about the ASF threat, to improve diagnostic tools and to develop a vaccine are each major focal points of CEEZAD’s research program.
Dr. Juergen Richt, CEEZAD’s director and an internationally recognized expert on transboundary animal diseases, was in the Far East on a series of presentations when the outbreak occurred in China. Dr. Richt spoke with veterinary medicine faculty and students at Konkuk University in Seoul, and also with members of the media and swine associations in South Korea to update them on the potential threat in their country.