Category Archives: Biological Threats

Belief in Witchcraft Complicates Current Marburg Outbreak in Uganda

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The most recent outbreak of Marburg Viral Disease (MVD) in Uganda has now claimed the lives of three people with as many as six ill (depending on the news resource). Attached to the outbreak is a curious superstition, explained in a recent update from the World Health Organization:

In the ongoing Marburg Virus Disease (MVD) outbreak in Kween district eastern Uganda, community engagement responders are faced with several rumours, misinformation and strong negative beliefs that seem to underpin outbreak.Most prominent is witchcraft which many believe is responsible for the deaths that have lately occurred in their community. For instance, family members of the probable and confirmed cases are convinced that their people were bewitched by their step mother who comes from a neighbouring tribe and with whom they have had a longstanding land feud. So firm is their belief that they planned to attack and kill her and her children had it not been for the timely intervention by members of the district health team.

Source: Rumours, Misinformation and Negative Beliefs underpin the Current Marburg Outbreak in Uganda | WHO | Regional Office for Africa

Couple this strange bit of news with the reports coming out of Uganda, regarding ‘dancing with the dead’ as a means of transmission for pneumonic and bubonic plague, and you get a recipe for a major healthcare crisis in both regions.

Liberia: Ebola Survivors to Undergo Three Specialized Tests – allAfrica.com

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[I]t’s good to see a long-term study involving Ebola survivors. Medical professionals in the past have apparently left the area as soon as the initial outbreak is contained, but this time they’ve chosen to monitor survivors who have complained of chronic vision, cognitive, and neuromuscular problems, despite being declared cured.

Ebola virus lingers in some ‘protected’ tissues for at least 9 months after recovery (this time span is likely to lengthen as the study continues). Here’s a snippet from October 23rd’s article:

About 1,500 Ebola survivors targeted for enrollment in the on-going Natural History Study on the Ebola virus are to shortly undergo three additional medical tests to determine their health status.The study is also known as the Joint Liberia-US Partnership for Research on Ebola in Liberia (PREVAIL).

Source: Liberia: Ebola Survivors to Undergo Three Specialized Tests – allAfrica.com

Researcher says cloned pigs could provide organs for human transplantation

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A gene-editing method could one day make pig organs suitable for use in people, scientists say. –┬áSource: ‘GM could make pig organs for humans’ – BBC News

[I]n my lifetime, I’ve seen organ transplantation go from a major news event that stunned the world to a ‘ho-hum’ commonplace event occurring on a regular basis in most large hospitals. But unlike other routine surgeries where a snip here and a stent there makes the patient all better, transplantation requires more than just medical supplies and knowledge, it requires an organ donor. According to donatelife.com, a new name is added to the organ recipient waiting list every ten minutes. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why scientists like George Church (quoted in the linked article above) might seek ‘fresh sources’ for this long list of human transplant patients. The need is genuine, Church’s proposed solution is alarming.

Even if one ignores any moral issues regarding the cloning of pigs simply to harvest their organs, the risk to anyone receiving pig organs is very real. The CRISPR method of gene-editing is still in its infancy, and there is no longterm study to determine how ‘accurate’ these edits truly are, and whether or not the affected gene might mutate or revert. Certainly, if the immediate goal is to remove retrovirus sequences from the pig DNA, then one has to prove that all such sequences were either removed or permanently silenced. That type of research takes time.

And time is something many on the waiting list simply do not have. Despite what some might think, I am not a Luddite. I love science; that’s why I chose biology, and in particular molecular biology and genetics. These tiny structures amaze me as testaments to God’s design. But I fear that we are rushing toward a future that seeks to unravel and rework God’s wonderful creation into a dystopian chimera. But theology aside, the mingling of animal organs with human beings could engender a new epidemic by exposing recipients to viruses endemic within porcine populations.

Ok, I’m off now soapbox. For now.

MERS sickens 3 in Saudi Arabia as Korean patient relapses | CIDRAP

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The latest developments lift Saudi Arabia’s total from the disease to 1,254, including 539 deaths. So far 703 people have recovered from their infections.In its latest breakdown on the source of infections, the MOH said 33% of patients were exposed to the virus in healthcare settings and 12% are healthcare workers who were infected at their workplace. ┬áSource: MERS sickens 3 in Saudi Arabia as Korean patient relapses | CIDRAP

[M]ERS virus infection probably isn’t at the top of your news watch, but I try to look in on it daily. There has been moderate rise in the infections in Saudi Arabia, and recently about two dozen African pilgrims to Mecca returned to their home countries only to be placed in isolation (all have been cleared now). Both the Korean outbreak and the recent spate of infections in SA appear to center around hospitals and healthcare workers, which leads public health experts to deduce that MERS spreads very easily in a healthcare setting. But it also may mean that people with compromised health to begin with are more apt to become ill. What is sobering are the number of deaths which indicate a death rate of about 42%.