Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Bugs Are Back

Scary stuff, indeed: 
A deadly strain of bird flu with the potential to infect and kill millions of people has been created in a laboratory by European scientists – who now want to publish full details of how they did it.

The discovery has prompted fears within the US Government that the knowledge will fall into the hands of terrorists wanting to use it as a bio-weapon of mass destruction.

Some scientists are questioning whether the research should ever have been undertaken in a university laboratory, instead of at a military facility.

The US Government is now taking advice on whether the information is too dangerous to be published.
Alarm as Dutch lab creates highly contagious killer flu (The Independent)
Attempts to censor details of controversial influenza experiments that created a highly infectious form of bird-flu virus are unlikely to stop the information from leaking out, according to scientists familiar with the research.

The US Government has asked the editors of two scientific journals to refrain from publishing key parts of research on the H5N1 strain of bird-flu in order to prevent the information falling into the hands of terrorists intent on recreating the same flu strain for use as a bioweapon.

However, scientists yesterday condemned the move. Some said that the decision comes too late because the information has already been shared widely among flu researchers, while others argued that the move could obstruct attempts to find new vaccines and drugs against an infectious form of human H5N1 if it appeared naturally.
Too late to contain killer flu science, say experts (The Independent)

And if the virus doesn't get you, the bacteria might:
The world is being driven towards the "unthinkable scenario of untreatable infections", experts are warning, because of the growth of superbugs resistant to all antibiotics and the dwindling interest in developing new drugs to combat them.

Reports are increasing across Europe of patients with infections that are nearly impossible to treat. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) said yesterday that in some countries up to 50 per cent of cases of blood poisoning caused by one bug – K. pneumoniae, a common cause of urinary and respiratory conditions – were resistant to carbapenems, the most powerful class of antibiotics.

Across Europe, the percentage of carbapenem-resistant K. pneumoniae has doubled from 7 per cent to 15 per cent. The ECDC said it is "particularly worrying" because carbapenems are the last-line antibiotics for treatment of multi-drug-resistant infections.

Marc Sprenger, the director, said: "The situation is critical. We need to declare a war against these bacteria."
Antibiotic resistant infections spread through Europe (The Independent)
Take the case of Klebsiella pneumonia, a hospital superbug, which can cause lethal infections. It is commonly treated using carbapenems, a powerful class of antibiotics.

But data released by the ECDC shows a rise in the percentage of carbapenem-resistant K. pneumonia.

Although it remains a limited threat in the UK, in some countries like Italy and Greece 15%-50% of K. pneumonia from bloodstream infections were resistant to carbapenems.

Writing in the Lancet, Professor Laura Piddock from the Antimicrobial Agents Research Group, University of Birmingham, warned of a crisis due to the lack of new antibiotics: "The demise of antibacterial drug discovery brings the spectre of untreatable infections."

The majority of antibiotics in use were discovered several decades ago. Professor Piddock pointed out that 16 new antibacterial agents were approved and brought to market between 1983-1987, compared with less than four agents since 2008.
Action on antibiotics (BBC)

Are we losing the fights against superbugs? (BBC)

Why are antibiotics being overused? (BBC)

Bird Flu Research Rattles Bioterrorism Field (NPR)

U.S. Says Details Of Flu Experiments Should Stay Secret (NPR)

So much for progress. Are we about to enter a post-antibiotic era? Are new strains of deadly viruses about to be engineered by man? Will the mainstream media bother reporting on any of it? Stay tuned...

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