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Top Infectious Disease News of the Week—March 11, 2018

In case you missed them, we've compiled the top five infectious disease articles from this past week.

#5: Global Virome Project Will Spend Next 10 Years Identifying Unknown Viruses in the Wild

Following recent outbreaks of viruses such as Zika and Ebola, public health researchers are increasingly working to discover new viruses before they emerge and cause human outbreaks. To meet that goal, this year will mark the launch of the Global Virome Project.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published its priority list of diseases and pathogens in need of research and development in 2018. Along with viruses such as Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, and Zika, last on that list is Disease X, which the WHO says represents the understanding that a currently unknown pathogen may emerge to cause a serious global epidemic in the human population. While the inclusion of Disease X has been somewhat controversial, it reflects the growing belief that rather than waiting for the emergence of a new pathogen to react, the public health community needs to find the next viral threats and prepare for them before they cause human pandemics.

Read more about the Global Virome Project.

#4: HIV-Positive Patients Six Times More Likely to Have Schizophrenia

A recent study has found that patients with HIV are six times more likely to have schizophrenia compared with those who do not have the virus.

The study, led by research coordinator Kalysha Closson, MSc, was presented at the 25th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) found a distinct association between the mental disorder and HIV — a relationship sparsely analyzed before.

Researchers from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver conducted a population-based retrospective cohort study that estimated schizophrenia prevalence and mortality outcomes in individuals living with HIV, as well as a 10% random sample of individuals in British Columbia, from 1998 to 2013.

Read more about the association between schizophrenia and HIV presented at CROI 2018.

#3: Europe Responds to Recent Measles Outbreaks with Tougher Vaccination Laws

A recent 4-fold increase in measles cases in Europe has been linked to declining vaccination rates, prompting several European countries along with other nations to pass legislation making more vaccinations mandatory and penalizing parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

Vaccine hesitancy is a fear of the risk side effects of vaccination and the safety of vaccine components, which can lead parents, pregnant women, and other groups to delay or entirely refuse vaccination. A 1998 paper linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism was debunked and withdrawn, and the author’s medical license revoked, but in the 20 years since its publication, the study has been blamed for declining vaccination rates. Despite the reductions in morbidity and mortality from vaccine-preventable diseases in recent decades, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says vaccine hesitancy has led to significant outbreaks of diseases such as measles, rubella, and polio in under-vaccinated communities.

Read more about mandatory vaccines in Europe.

#2: WHO Calls Meeting to Discuss HIV Vaccine Strategies: Public Health Watch

We’ve all pondered the eternal question: If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Well, what if researchers developed a vaccine for HIV and no one had access to it because of cost and/or distribution issues?

Frankly, it’s a query no one involved in the treatment of HIV, or those engaged in working with at-risk populations wants to ask, although they know they must. Such is the reality in the global health environment, where drug and vaccine development often outpaces solutions to the larger, societal problems that can limit access to optimal care.

As reported online on February 27, 2018, by the journal Nature, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Initiative for Vaccine Research (IVR) organized a meeting of researchers, activists, and policymakers in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss strategies for ensuring that a viable HIV vaccine, once developed, would reach the very people who would benefit most from it. A WHO spokesperson told Contagion® that more than 75 people “representing important stakeholders in vaccine development, including individuals from academia, international not-for-profit organizations supporting HIV vaccine development, regulators, funders, civil society representatives from all world regions, and representatives of industry” attended.

Read the rest of the Public Health Watch.

#1: Geographic Distribution of Valley Fever Wider Than Thought

A recent study has shown that outbreaks of Valley fever have a wider geographic distribution than once thought.

Michael Freedman, MD, from the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and colleagues, analyzed data from 47 Valley fever outbreaks and published the results of their study online in the March 2018 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) monthly peer-reviewed public health journal.

“Most (85%) outbreaks were associated with environmental exposures,” the authors write, and “more than one-third of outbreaks occurred in areas where the fungus was not previously known to be endemic.”

Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is caused by a fungus of the genus Coccidioides. Spores of the fungus are found in the soil in the southwestern United States, south-central Washington, and parts of Mexico and Central and South America.

Individuals become infected by inhaling fungal spores which are stirred into the air by winds or any activities that disrupt the soil. Not everyone who inhales the spores develops Valley fever, but those who do typically have an influenza-like syndrome with a cough, shortness of breath, fever, and fatigue.

The disease is reportable in some states, with approximately 10,000 cases reported in the United States each year. However, Valley fever is considered to be largely underdiagnosed, and its epidemiology remains poorly understood.

Read the rest of the top infectious disease article of the week.