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Deadly Virus Found In Meat Allergy-Causing Ticks

Mysterious killer virus discovered from a species of ticks known to induce allergy to red meat.

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Dorsal view of a female "lone star tick", Amblyomma americanum | Public Health Image Library

A species of ticks, whose bite is known to induce red meat allergy in humans, was found out to carry a newly identified, potentially dangerous virus called Bourbon virus.

The virus was first identified in 2014 in a middle-aged man living in Kansas. He was previously healthy, but later on, complained of having flu-like symptoms and a history of tick bites. The doctors treated him as a case of ehrlichiosis, a tick-borne bacterial infection, due to its similar presentation. But the antibiotics did not affect, and the man continued to deteriorate. After he died, his blood samples were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the results showed that it was a completely new virus. It was named Bourbon after the place where the patient had lived.

The second case was in 2017 when a 58-year-old woman from Missouri died of the same rare tick-borne illness caused by the Bourbon virus. The victim, Tamela Wilson, was admitted at a hospital in St. Louis with complaints of fever, fatigue, and red rashes. According to her statement with the doctors, she was working at Meramec State Park when she noticed and removed the ticks from her body. A week later, the symptoms started to show.

Wilson’s blood samples were tested for common tick diseases in Missouri. After the results came back negative, the doctors sent the sample to CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases for further analysis. Washington University infectious disease specialist Jennie Kwon, together with the CDC, identified Bourbon virus as the suspect. Unfortunately, the patient died after spending three weeks in the hospital.

“We were able to tell the patient and her family that we had identified the cause of her illness, but the unfortunate part is that there was no antiviral treatment available,” said Kwon. “The team did its best to provide supportive care, but unfortunately, she did not survive.”

Scientists still know very little about the virus since its discovery in 2014, as only very few cases were identified, including two patients succumbing to the Bourbon virus infection. Up to this day, researchers are still studying the virus and how to treat the disease.

Bourbon virus is described as taking various forms — sometimes it’s long and filamentous or sphere-shaped surrounded by spiky proteins. Aside from affecting the brain cells of infected humans, it could also attack the white blood cells. Apart from this, the virus seems to reside in ticks. CDC researchers have collected the virus in many ticks in Bourbon County, Kansas, where it was first identified. Specifically, it was in the Lone Star tick where the virus was found, and its bite is known to cause red meat allergy in humans.

However, the agency needs further evidence to conclude that these ticks are the vector of Bourbon virus. The CDC has yet to declare the virus as a cause of tick-borne disease. As of now, there are on-going studies on Lone Star ticks and Bourbon viruses in the laboratory, according to Aaron Brault, a microbiologist from CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. He also added that the link between the Bourbon virus and the said species of ticks is now a “strong probability rather than simply a possibility.”

Researchers believe that Bourbon virus is a cousin of the influenza virus. With this, influenza virus researchers, such as Jocco Boon who is a virologist at Washington University, became interested in the case.

Boon and his colleagues tried to test whether drugs against influenza could be used against Bourbon virus. All the other influenza drugs were ineffective except for one.

Favipiravir is a drug that interferes with the proteins needed by the virus to multiply. The researchers conducted an experiment using this drug on infected mice. Those that were injected with placebo, shortly after becoming infected did not survive, while those injected with the drug survived without any signs of being ill.

Unfortunately, the drug is not yet FDA approved in the US, although it is available in Japan, where it was developed.

As of now, there is still no medicine for the treatment of the disease. The best way to avoid being infected is to prevent tick bites by using insect repellents, wearing long sleeves and pants, avoiding bushy and wooded areas, and performing tick checks after outdoor activity.

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Germany Will Make Measles Vaccine Mandatory Through New Law

Germany aims to pass a new law to increase immunity coverage to 95% all throughout the country

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Germany is well on its way with establishing a new law that will compulsorily make parents give their children the needed measles vaccine — aiming to combat the resurging of the disease in the country.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet decided Wednesday, July 17, that they will pass the Measles Protection Act, which was adopted July 19.

“Whether in kindergarten, at the childminder or at school, we want to protect all children against measles infection,” Jens Spahn, Germany’s Health Minister, said in a statement.

“Measles is extremely contagious and can take a very nasty, at times deadly, turn,” the Minister added.

The new law will require all German children to take the recommended vaccine shots before admission to kindergarten or school next year or before March 1, 2020.

The law is also mandatory over adults or staff working in daycare centers or other educational institutions.

Source: DPA

Furthermore, parents will have to prove that their children have been vaccinated before entering school or kindergarten through a vaccination certificate called “Kinderuntersuchungsheft,” which is a special booklet that parents fill out, documenting their child’s vaccines or by a medical certificate that shows that the child already had measles.

Reluctance or violating the law will receive a fine of up to 2,500 euros ($2,800) under the bill that is expected to pass quickly through the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

“We want to protect as many children as possible from measles infection,” said Health Minister Spahn, who is aiming for at least 95 percent coverage.

While 97 percent of German children had their first dose, the percentage that received the second dose dropped to 93 percent. Furthermore, some regions fall short on the desired quota at the federal level. The vaccination rate against measles in Germany is currently at 92.9 percent, but it has been falling in recent years.

Through this new law, German authorities hope to bump their coverage well above 95 percent, the level recommended by the World Health Organization to achieve a sturdy “herd immunity” against measles.

Furthermore, the new law also applies to doctors and other adults working in a community or medical facilities. In accordance, they too will also need to prove that they have had the required vaccinations. On top of that, the bill will also require asylum seekers and refugees to prove their vaccination status if they move into community accommodation.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that global efforts to increase immunization coverage against deadly diseases are stagnating and is significantly contributing to the resurgence of measles worldwide.

Last year, 350,000 cases of measles were reported, more than double the number for 2017. In the same year, the most recent year for which estimates are available, measles killed close to 110,000 people.

In the first quarter of 2019, the number of reported measles cases globally increased fourfold as compared to the same period last year. The WHO has deemed vaccine hesitancy — the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines — a top 10 threat to global health this year.

The resurgence of the disease also relates to the hesitation and fear in developed countries, with the United States taking the lead on the highest rate of reported cases.

Particularly for Europe, who saw a large influx in measles cases, witnessed 82,596 new cases of measles in 2018 — a staggering 15 times the record low in 2016.

Germany was among the worst affected countries, with around 651 new measles cases being reported to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and in the first months of this year, there are already more than 400 cases that have been reported. 

The report comes after Germany’s efforts of making vaccinations compulsory at a regional level in the state of Brandenburg. Today the country is making a full swing against the disease by enforcing the law throughout the country.

The law will still need the approval of the German parliament. But the large government majority is seemingly supportive of the move and is expected to pass without difficulty. However, the law is criticized by the Greens, who felt the vaccines should be encouraged, but not mandatory.

Related: New York Moves To Rule Out Religious Exemption For Vaccines

The resurgence of the disease in some countries has been blamed on the so-called “anti-vax” movement, which is largely based on a 1998 publication linking the measles vaccine and autism that has since been debunked.

Also faced with an increasing number of measle outbreaks, a handful of other countries around the world have introduced mandatory vaccinations, including France, Italy, and Australia. 

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The Future Of Child Care: Smart Diapers

Lumi by Pampers is a smart diaper system that allows parents to track their babies’ sleeping and peeing patterns right off their smartphones.

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Photo: Lumi by Pampers Website

Recent technological advancements have made it possible to make everything we use in our daily lives smart — phones, locks, homes, remote controls, TV, and diapers. Yes, you read that right: smart diapers.

Pampers, the world’s leading diaper and infant product brand, is set to launch its take for smart diapers. The company announced that it would be launching the new smart diaper line, called Lumi, with the capability of tracking baby urination patterns and sending insights right into a parent’s smartphone.

“Beyond keeping them dry through the night, we wondered: how can we do more to support babies’ daily development?” the company asked as they start to develop the ingenious product.

“So we partnered with Verily and Logitech to create Lumi by Pampers — the world’s first all-in-one connected care system that’s revolutionizing baby monitoring by helping parents monitor and track their baby 24/7. By combining a video monitor with an activity sensor, Lumi helps parents blend real-time data with their intuition seamlessly and offers insights tailored to their unique baby using the Lumi by Pampers app.”

Pampers partnered with Verily, Alphabet Inc.’s research organization devoted to the study of life sciences, and Logitech, a Swiss provider of personal computers and mobile peripherals, to develop the said smart diaper, as well as, the Lumi app.

Furthermore, the smart diaper was also developed with the help of leading pediatricians, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, and Dr. Earl Young.

According to Pampers, Lumi has activity sensors that automatically tracks baby’s activities like wet diapers and sleep. And the information gathered by the diaper will be sent to an app which shows “routine, insights and all you need to know in one place.”

The initial package includes a ten-day pack of diapers, as well as, a 24-hour camera monitor. The 1080p wide-angle HD monitor with night vision and two-way audio also track room temperature and humidity. Additional packs of Lumi by Pamper diapers will be sold separately, and pricing has not been finalized yet.

Lumi can track “your baby’s sleep, so you know how much they’re getting.” According to Pampers, “sleep fuels the fastest rate of brain development, which happens between ages of 0-3.” The app also tracks your baby’s feeding, diapering, sleep routines, and critical milestones.

“With our all-in-one system, you can monitor your baby’s unique patterns and see emerging routines.”

Aside from that, Lumi also personalizes insights and sends a notification to the parents via the app. “Lumi offers content tailored to your baby from The Wonder Weeks® and our team of baby development experts, to help you better understand your baby’s overall development,” they said.

The concept of the smart diaper is part of a global movement called the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows users to track everything through the things that they commonly use — from the number of knocks on the door to the frequency of opening the refrigerator, and to how well someone brushes their teeth.

As IoT becomes an everyday innovation across all industry, baby’s healthcare has recently been flooded by new smart products to help new and old parents to track the progress of their babies’ growth. A similar concept was previously launched by Pampers’ competitor, Huggies, where their smart diapers have the capability of notifying parents every time their babies pooped.

Other products that have the IoT technology includes a robotic crib that was said to mimic the womb to help new infants sleep soundly and some onesies that double as a sleeping pattern tracker for babies.

Pediatricians around the world have been reminding parents to track their baby’s growth consistently. Tracking allows them to be alerted when the baby is constipated, or if the baby is dehydrated, among other things that might seem wrong based on aggregate data. This is particularly essential because early diagnosis helps parents secure their baby’s health more efficiently.

While there is a plethora of tracking apps already around the market, Lumi is the first that has an activity sensor that sends aggregate data directly to the parents and makes a smart analysis of “what is happening.” The problem with Lumi, however, is that it tops out at size four, and offers no further support after the baby outgrows them.

The product is yet to be available for public purchase, and the price has not been finalized yet. But Pampers opens a site where interest parents can pre-order Lumi on a waiting-list basis.

“60 years ago, we reimagined baby care with the first disposable diaper. Lumi by Pampers is the next step in our mission to continue re-inventing baby care,” reads Lumi’s website.

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Israeli Researchers Test Drug That Starves Pancreatic Cancer Cells To Death

Isreali researchers believe that CPI-613 can effectively help expedite the process of curing pancreatic cancer of patients.

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Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Reimagining a conventional way of attacking cancer is Rafael Pharmaceuticals’ idea of aiding a more immediate way of treating patients with pancreatic cancer, which is one of the most leading causes of death from cancer in the world.

Israeli researchers from Rafael Pharmaceuticals launched a phase III clinical trial on Thursday for pancreatic cancer at eight sites throughout Israel, which the company sees as a breakthrough for the drug that they are developing.

Rafael Pharmaceuticals is a leader in the growing field of cancer metabolism-based therapeutics. Supplementarily, their approach to helping expedite the process of extinguishing pancreatic cancer from patients is to starve the cancer cells to death with the help of other existing medical solutions.

Meanwhile, the concept of starving cancer cells has been a long tried approach to attack the problem from the root—starve them enough to prevent them from dividing and cause eventual cell death. However, previous attempts have continuously failed to show much promise that proves it to become an effective track to follow.

As an effort, Rafael Pharmaceuticals is looking at a drug called CPI-613, which activates two key tricarboxylic acids (TCA) cycle enzymes called Pyruvate dehydrogenase and alpha-Ketoglutaric dehydrogenase. Particularly, these TCA cycle enzymes are responsible for signaling cells to release stored energy.

Basically, CPI-613 mimics the processes of chemical reactions performed by the two mentioned above TCA cycle enzymes. But specific to the drug, it “feeds misinformation to these regulatory elements, making them feel that there is too much carbon flow” and signal cancer cells to release stored energy. Essentially, the cells eventually die or weakened as a result.

Tim Pardee, Rafael’s Chief Medical Officer, also noted that the drug also offers many benefits: “[CPI-613] simultaneously inhibits both complexes so tumor cells that are primarily driven by glucose cannot utilize glucose in the TCA cycle. Tumor cells that are primarily driven by glutamine usage cannot use glutamine-derived carbons in the TCA cycle. And, importantly, tumors cannot switch from one source to the other in the presence of CPI-613.”

In other words, one benefit with their drug is that cancer cells cannot utilize their primary source of energy, such as glucose, to grow and replicate because CPI-613 feeds them information that there is already an abundance of which. While the second benefit is that for the cells to develop resistance to the drug is unlikely, and the third, the drug is highly selective; thus, it will hardly cause significant damage to healthy cells.

Pardee adds that CPI-613 combined with other existing treatments such as chemotherapy can effectively expedite the process of curing pancreatic cancer, at least that is what their clinical trial is trying to prove.

As of the moment, the researchers are looking to perform phase III on a group that they are calling the AVENGER 500, where the first 250 people diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer will be administered CPI-613 with a chemotherapy combination of fluorouracil, leucovorin, irinotecan, and oxaliplatin, called FOLFIRINOX. Meanwhile, the next 250 will only receive chemotherapy treatment.

If the theory serves right, the pharmaceutical company will yield positive results by September 2020, and the company will be able to apply and receive expedited approval by the FDA. If not, he said that the earliest the drug would be on the market from this trial would be October 2021.

The trial kicked off at eight hospitals throughout the country, including Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center, Soroka Medical Center, Sheba Medical Center, Rambam Health Care Campus, Laniado Hospital, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

In particular with pancreatic cancer, it is the 12th most common cancer worldwide, with 458,918 new cases in 2018 alone. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death and accounts for 7% of all cancer deaths, according to Cancer.Net.

Furthermore, the problematic thing about pancreatic cancer is that it is hard to detect early on, so researchers are hell-bent into finding solutions for the disease when it is already in its late stages, or it is already too late to administer early-on medical treatments.

Thus, the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is 9%. For the 52% of people who are diagnosed after cancer has spread, the 5-year survival rate is 3%, Cancer.Net says.

“Every day, more than 1,200 people around the world receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and our trial brings hope as the only Phase 3 clinical trial in metastatic pancreatic cancer,” said Sanjeev Luther, President and Chief Executive Officer of Rafael Pharmaceuticals. “The expansion of our trial into Israel is the first step in bringing our commitment to developing treatments for patients with significant unmet medical needs to a global level.”

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