More microbiology news

I hinted at a bit of a viral revival just yesterday, but I wasn’t quite expecting the rest of microbiology’s greatest villians to kick in just yet. Still, they did.

Monkeypox goes Iberian:

Portuguese authorities have confirmed five cases and are investigating another 15 suspected cases. In a statement on Wednesday, Portugal’s health ministry said the cases it had detected – all in the Lisbon and Tagus Valley region – had all involved men whose symptoms included ulcerative lesions.

While in Madrid:

“Generally speaking, monkeypox is spread by respiratory transmission, but the characteristics of the eight suspected cases point towards fluid contact,” the spokesperson said.

Fernando Simón, an epidemiologist who heads Spain’s health emergencies centre, said while it was unlikely that monkeypox would spread significantly, “that can’t be ruled out”.

Salmonella in Belgian Chocolate:

Obviously not a virus, but still small and nasty, so it fits here.
This one has been going for a while now, but an updated report means that we can include it in this week’s microbiology news. Belgium chocolate is known for its quality and its creamy, luxurious taste, and now also for containing Salmonella typhimurium ST34. Delicious.

Cases, which have now started to decrease, stood at 324 (including both probable and confirmed) in the EU/EEA and the UK, as of 18 May 2022. They have been reported in twelve EU/EEA countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden), the UK, Switzerland, Canada, and USA.

Polio in Mozambique:

Awful news about the first wild poliovirus infection in Moz in over 30 years.

The case was diagnosed in a child in the northeastern province of Tete, it said. “The detection of another case of wild poliovirus in Africa is greatly concerning, even if it’s unsurprising given the recent outbreak in Malawi,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said.
Poliomyelitis – the medical term for polio – is an acutely infectious and contagious viral disease which attacks the spinal cord and causes irreversible paralysis in children.

The virus was tracked back to the outbreak in Malawi from a strain originally circulating in Pakistan. Local countries are now desperately trying get all their children vaccinated before there is any further spread.

Corona continues:

No handy news report to go with this one, but despite the numbers starting to drop in SA, there have been three five more confirmed cases in people I know in the last 24 hours.


I’d love to see the provincial data: it’s my feeling that a significant decline from the previously high numbers in Gauteng might be masking a steady (or even slightly increasing) case load in the Western Cape. Certainly anecdotally, we’re feeling a bit surrounded by it again. A reminder to please act sensibly and responsibly because this clearly isn’t done yet.

And obviously, a get well soon to those in question. You know who you are.

And that’s it for today this particular hour as far as microbiology news goes. Join us again tomorrow for more happy happy joy joy fun and games as thousands of people get sick thanks to various germs, disease and infection.

Virus Vrydag

Alliteration because this is a post about viruses. And it is a Friday. And Vrydag is Friday in Afrikaans.
Also Virus is Virus in Afrikaans. So we’re all good.

My inbox was full of posts and articles about viruses today. Real viruses, not digital ones. I’m not sure what prompted this outbreak, but if you have even a passing interest in microbiology and biomedical science, they’re quite interesting.

First up, a two-parter: this TED-talk from CSIR laser scientist Patience Mthunzi.

Could we cure HIV with lasers?

and this response:
Fullscreen capture 2016-08-12 105612 AM.bmp

because, as UCT virus scientist Ed Rybicki says:

Sorry, and I realise that she’s a passionate and well-meaning woman who has a TED talk and everything, but this idea is right up there with using electrotherapy to treat HIV infections. In short, it might work at the single-cell level, but is hopelessly impractical to use on whole people.


Next up: Polio is back in Nigeria.

After more than two years without wild poliovirus in Nigeria, the Government reported today that 2 children have been paralyzed by the disease in the northern Borno state.

A huge push on a very successful worldwide vaccine programme against polio has yielded incredible results. It does/did appear that polio is/was heading the same way as smallpox.


But continuing religious opposition, together with political upheaval in northern Nigeria has meant that the campaign has been failing at local level. These two cases, which have resulted in two children being paralysed for life, are both a setback and a reminder that we’re not quite there yet and that any thoughts of eradication were decidedly, and sadly, premature.

Room for one more? Good. Because it’s really interesting.

It’s a long one, but if you want to try to take some positives away from the West Africa Ebola Outbreak which began 2 years ago this month (yes, I know), then it would be the lessons that we have learned about how to contain future outbreaks. Not just Ebola outbreaks, but any outbreaks. Especially those in the developing world.

These lessons will stand us in better stead when the next challenge arises, says the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Professor David Heymann:

“By using language that they could understand we were able to get communities to work very rapidly to stop transmission,” said Prof Heymann, who feels this was not the initial priority in West Africa. “We’re too biomedical in all our approaches, but we’ve learned that community engagement is the key as we’ve gone along.”

“If communities can be empowered with understanding about how to bury their own people safely and how to prevent themselves getting infected, outbreaks can be stopped. That’s how they’ve been stopped in the past and will be stopped in the future.”

Much of this isn’t rocket science. In fact, none of it it is rocket science. Rocket science isn’t going to help you prevent the spread of a killer virus in West Africa. Getting to the moon, perhaps. But telling scared villagers how they can avoid dying from a seemingly unstoppable disease process? No. This basically comes down to using the correct language (something we’ve talked about before on the blog) and going through the correct channels. In effect, just communicating effectively.

If that’s the rather simple foundation for a more successful response to the next outbreak – whatever that might be – then lives are going to be saved. And that’s obviously a very good thing.

Some interesting stories

Too much to do, too little time to blog, so here’s some stuff I enjoyed to keep you going.

From some science: on the weird, hugely interesting and currently unexplained early spring peak in suicides in the Western world:

…people usually commit suicide because personal, social-system and environmental factors combine to push them to a new place of energized despair.

In this view, spring somehow adds weight to an already unbearable load. But how?

One traditional candidate, favored by both Dr. Jamison and Dr. Kaslow, is the “broken promise effect” — the sometimes crushing disappointment that spring fails to bring the relief the sufferer has hoped for.

To science meeting religion: and the push to erricate polio in Pakistan, which is up against strong – and deadly – opposition from local religious leaders:

On Sunday 16 June, gunmen on motorbikes shot dead two polio workers carrying out a vaccination drive in Peshawar, a crowded city in Pakistan’s north-west. One of the men who died was a schoolteacher, the other a paramedic. Both left behind grieving families. Their deaths bring the total tally of polio workers assassinated in Pakistan up to nearly 20 since last December.

To religion: as a paralysed child gets an answer to his prayers.

Said Angela Schlosser, a day nurse who witnessed the Divine Manifestation: “An incredible, booming voice said to Timmy, ‘I am the Lord thy God, who created the rivers and the mountains, the heavens and the earth, the sun and the moon and the stars. Before Me sits My beloved child, whose faith is that of the mustard seed from which grows mighty and powerful things. My child, Timmy Yu, I say unto you thus: I have heard your prayers, and now I shall answer them. No, you cannot get out of your wheelchair. Not ever.'”

That last link via @grant_mcdermott in response to my tweet about the lack of any response to the tens of millions of prayers being said for Nelson Mandela at the moment.