Top 5 Contagion® News Articles from February 2017


Catch up on last month's top infectious disease news coverage from Contagion®.

While the year is still young, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already issued travel alerts due to outbreaks, and releases estimates on vaccine effectiveness. In addition, researchers are on the verge of a new therapy to fight HIV infection, as well as a “permanent” flu shot.

Read on to see the top most-read articles of February 2017.

#5 Duke May Have Developed the Most Powerful HIV-Destroying Antibody Thus Far

A staggering 36.7 million individuals are living with HIV/AIDS around the world and the disease is responsible for over 35 million deaths. For years, researchers around the world have been channeling their efforts into putting an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but because of its ability to rapidly mutate as well as its inclination to hide within human genetic material, it has been a particularly grueling fight. However, research from the Duke Human Vaccine Institute may provide a much needed “win” in this battle.

Recently, the Duke Human Vaccine Institute reported that they have created an “HIV-destroying antibody” capable of neutralizing up to 99% of the virus; according to a press release, this capability “makes it the most powerful HIV-destroying antibody yet found.” The researchers believe that the antibody “would be able to provide and serve as the foundation for an HIV therapy."

In their study, the researchers created an “artificial antibody” by taking two different “HIV-fighting” antibodies found in humans and exchanging the components of each. When speaking with The Chronicle, the study’s first author, LaTonya Williams, PhD, a post-doctoral associate for the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, explained, “We were able to take antibodies from both phases of the study—antibodies that came from memory B cells and antibodies that came from plasma—and we were able to swap out the genes to make a hybrid, or chimeric, antibody that we found was more potent than any of the antibodies that were natural.” According to Dr. Williams, in the first part of the study, the researchers’ central focus was to isolate the HIV-neutralizing antibodies. They were able to achieve this by utilizing technology that had been developed by the Vaccine Research Center for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back in 2008: using proteins “as bait” in order to “bind” to the antibody-producing memory B cells.

Continue reading the full article here.

#4 Flu Reaches Epidemic Proportions in the United States

In just the third week of 2017, the influenza virus in the United States has reached epidemic levels, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As the 2016-2017 flu season continues, health officials in 37 states have now reported widespread flu activity, which is up from the previous week’s tally of 29 states. High flu activity, reported in seven states a week prior, is now affecting the 10 states of Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee, along with New York City. Surveillance laboratories have confirmed at least 25,628 flu-positive specimens, 87% of which have been influenza A viruses.

With the three flu-related pediatric deaths reported in the week ending January 21, a total of eight children have died of influenza-related illness so far this season. In the 2015-2016 flu season, the CDC reported 89 pediatric deaths associated with the flu, a number that fell from the total of 148 deaths reported during the 2014-2015 flu season. One of the recent deaths included a 6-year-old boy from Ohio, a tragedy that led the school where the boy attended kindergarten to cancel classes and offer grief counseling. The Ohio Department of Health has reported that the state’s widespread flu activity has led to at least 654 hospitalizations, and with no vaccine shortages in the state, health officials are urging Ohio residents to protect themselves from the virus by receiving flu shots.

Continue reading the full article here.

#3 Researchers Close in on Permanent Flu Shot

Each year, thousands of people are infected with influenza during the flu season in the United States, and most years, hundreds die either from the flu itself or flu-associated illnesses such as pneumonia.

Although the CDC does not track adult flu deaths nationally, the National Center for Health Statistics and the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System process death certificate data to rank certain weeks of the year as “elevated” for flu-related deaths and also as above or below the “epidemic threshold.”

In the 2015-2016 flu season, there were a total of seven weeks in January and February that were deemed above the epidemic threshold. This could be due, in part, to relatively low levels of vaccination on a national level, with only about half of the US population electing to receive a flu vaccine on any given year, Ted M. Ross, PhD, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Infectious Disease and director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, told Contagion®. “If we could get to the point where we could get maybe 90% of the population protected, we would have so many more people protected against cocirculating strains,” he said.

Continue reading the full article here.

#2 CDC Issues Level 2 Travel Alert for Brazil Due to Yellow Fever Outbreak

As if the Zika virus did not result in enough damage in Brazil this past year, residents are now being plagued with an additional mosquito-borne virus “of mass destruction:” yellow fever.

Brazil has been experiencing an ongoing outbreak of yellow fever since December 2016, and in January 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an official warning of a potential outbreak of the disease. On February 1, 2017, the CDC issued a Level 2 travel Alert on travel for the country, which calls on individuals to, “Practice Enhanced Precautions.”

According to the CDC, “the first cases were reported in the state of Minas Gerais, but cases have since been reported in the neighboring states of Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo.” Although most cases of this deadly infection have occurred in rural areas, the disease is continuing to spread into more urban locations. As a result of recent yellow fever-associated deaths and the continued spread of the disease, a mass vaccination campaign is underway, which will target unvaccinated individuals in the areas that are most affected.

Continue reading the full article here.

#1 CDC Releases New Estimates on 2016-2017 Flu Vaccine’s Effectiveness

With several more weeks left to go in the 2016-2017 flu season in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released early data showing that this year’s flu shot has effectively reduced the risk of being infected with the virus by nearly half for those vaccinated.

The new estimates on the flu vaccine’s effectiveness (VE) for this season were recently published in the latest issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The authors of the report examined data collected on 3,144 children and adults at five study sites enrolled in the US Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network from November 29, 2016 to February 4, 2017. The study participants were individuals aged 6 months or older who had sought medical care for acute respiratory illness, and the percentage of those vaccinated with the seasonal flu shot ranged from 46% to 61% at the five study sites. Of the 3,144 individuals in the study group, 744 (24%) had laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza; 88% of these were cases of infection with influenza A.

The researchers found that this season’s flu vaccine had a 48% rate of effectiveness, after adjusting for factors such as study site, age group, sex, ethnicity, self-rated general health, and number of days from illness onset to enrollment. During a flu season dominated by the influenza A H3N2 strain—known to cause more severe illness for those infected—the CDC report notes that the vaccine has had a 43% effectiveness rate so far against the predominant influenza A H3N2 virus, and a 73% effectiveness rate against circulating influenza B viruses. These findings are on par with vaccine effectiveness estimates for past seasons’ vaccines such as the 2012-2013 seasonal flu vaccine, which the CDC said was 49% effective and prevented 5.6 million flu illnesses, 2.7 million flu-related medical visits, and an estimated 61,500 flu hospitalizations.

Continue reading the full article here.

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