Top 5 Contagion&reg News Articles for the Week of April 16, 2017

In case you missed them, here are our top 5 articles for the week of April 16, 2017.

The Top 5 articles of this past week focused on old and emerging infectious diseases. The first article in our list provides information on a disease once thought to be completely eradicated across the world—smallpox—and how it may be poised to make an unwelcome comeback. Conversely, the article the tops our list explores a case of an infection with an emerging tick-borne disease—Powassan virus—and how we may be seeing more infections across the country. This week we also highlighted the growing concern over hospital / manufacturer partnerships to test new infection prevention products, as well as the increase in influenza B infections across the country and a newly discovered compound to fight the flu. Finally, our coverage of new research showing multidrug-resistant organisms in biofilms were found on disinfected dry hospital surfaces in four countries, rounds out our list.

#5: Is Smallpox Poised to Make a Comeback?

Smallpox, a deadly infectious disease previously deemed completely eradicated by the World Health Assembly may be on the edge of making a comeback, according to developments highlighted in several recent news reports.

The last person to acquire the virus was a 3-year-old girl in Bangladesh in 1975, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, according to recent news reports, the melting of frozen tundra in Siberia has, in fact, unearthed infected corpses of individuals who died from smallpox during earlier epidemics. The corpses were “covered with sores ‘that look like the marks left by smallpox’.” Researchers also found fragments of smallpox DNA.

In addition, a rare occurrence of smallpox has occurred at the Kakrapar Nuclear Power Plant in Western India. According to investigators, contaminated carbon dioxide used at the plant may have smallpox-like corrosion in leaky pipes inside the complex.

These naturally-occurring cases of smallpox are not the only possible cause of a resurrection of the disease, though. Read on to learn more about other potential causes of a smallpox comeback.

#4: Keeping Infection Control Clean

Hospitals and disinfection companies typically build alliances in order to test out new disinfection products, which allows both the hospital and the disinfection company to be on the “cutting edge of new infection prevention practices.” Oftentimes the partnerships are successful, and bring to light the successes (and failures) of the product. Sometimes, however, the ultimate goal of infection prevention gets lost in the midst of the alliance. One such case was highlighted in an article this week by Contagion® contributor, Saskia Popescu, MPH, MA, CIC.

The partnership between the company Sage and Rush University Medical Center (UMC) in Chicago recently came under scrutiny when positive results of Sage’s disinfectant chlorhexidine wipe led to an increase in the recommended use of the wipe as an alternative to sponge baths. In fact, a majority of hospitals now follow this recommendation. However, an increase in allergic reactions as a result of the use of these wipes has spurred the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take a closer look at chlorhexidine. The disinfectant “continues to raise concerns over adverse reactions, which are in turn drawing attention to other products and partnerships that may be biasing the infection prevention environment.” One such concern is over the fact that a Rush UMC infectious disease physician was the lead author on many of the Sage studies that touted their effectiveness and safety. “A new lawsuit and growing scrutiny of incentivizing practices between Sage and many of its hospital partnerships have increased attention on the potential for biased research.”

Read more about the growing case against the “off-label” use chlorhexidine wipes, here.

#3: As Flu Season Wanes, Researchers Discover Potentially Powerful Flu-Fighting Compound

Amidst a rise in influenza-associated pediatric deaths in the United States, a surprising source for a new flu-fighting compound has also been revealed.

According to the most recent data from public health laboratories, 61% of the respiratory samples that were reported in the most recent week revealed the influenza B strain. Indeed, the B strain of the virus is behind the recent influenza outbreaks in North Dakota, as well as four new influenza-related pediatric deaths. North Dakota has seen a record number of influenza cases this flu season, with a reported 7045 cases, which is a higher case count that their average of 1942 cases, and even their previous record of 6443 cases, reported during the 2014-2015 flu season.

Experts agree that the flu shot is still the best way to stave off infection with the virus, and antiviral neuraminidase inhibitors are the best way to fight the illness once an individual is infected. Now, a research team comprised of researchers from Emory University in Georgia, Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology in India, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, may have found another powerful flu fighter. The surprising source? The skin mucous of a frog from southern India. The researchers found that a compound they named, “urumin,” in the host defense peptides released by the frog may have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Urumin was found to be deadly to the influenza virus, without harming human cells. According to the researchers, “urumin may offer an important new weapon for antiviral treatments during flu outbreaks.

Read more about the latest influenza activity in the United States and urumin, go here.

#2: Researchers Study MDRO Presence in Biofilms Collected from Hospitals in 4 Countries

Research presented at the recent Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of American (SHEA) Spring 2017 conference showed high contamination rates on dry hospital surfaces in 4 countries and the presence of bacterial biofilms on most of the dry hospital surfaces, even after environmental cleaning practices had taken place.

Scientists from Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the United Kingdom tested for the presence of biofilms on dry and disinfected hospital surfaces because biofilms may be the reason that multidrug-resistant organisms “are able to survive for prolonged periods in Intensive Care Units within some hospitals.” The surfaces tested included hospital curtains and nurse station sinks.

The results of the study showed the presence of multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) in the biofilms on dry hospitals surfaces in samples from all 4 of the countries involved in the study. In addition, the bacteria the scientists isolated from the study samples “were found to be ‘tolerant to disinfection,’ which may be why they were able to survive for prolonged periods, and may have even contributed to a rise in healthcare-associated infections.” According to the authors on the study, “More frequent and better cleaning [is] needed to remove biofilms and MDROs from hospitals surfaces and the environment.”

To read more about the study methods and results, click here.

#1: Connecticut Reports its First Human Case of Powassan Virus

Although Lyme disease may be the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, another tick-borne disease, Powassan Virus, is making itself known in many regions across the country; the effects of which appear to be concerning.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently provided a report in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on a case of Powassan virus in a 5-month-old infant in Connecticut. The case was diagnosed in November of last year in a “previously healthy male” infant who presented with a number of unsettling symptoms. The parents of the infant indicated that he had been bitten by a tick—which latched on for less than 3 hours—2 weeks prior to the onset of the symptoms. According to the CDC, a tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more to transmit Lyme disease.

An average of 7 cases of Powassan virus are diagnosed in the United States each year. The virus is most prevalent in the Northeastern region of the United States, but states outside of this region have been reporting their first cases of infection. “It is not known whether this represents spread of the virus within the local tick population, or increased testing and recognition of the virus as a cause of human disease,” stated the authors in the MMWR.

The case in Connecticut is the first for the state. The CDC is recommending that healthcare providers who practice in areas known to be endemic for ticks, consider the possibility of Powassan virus in individuals who present with symptoms that are clinically compatible (such as encephalitis), and learn about the individual’s comprehensive tick exposure history.

To learn more about the symptoms the infant presented with and Powassan virus, click here.