News Scan for Mar 06, 2014

Skin infections in seafood markets
MERS case in Saudi Arabia
Mouse model for MERS-CoV
H7N9 in China
Funds for Ebola, Marburg research

NYC officials link skin infections to Chinatown fish markets

New York City's health department said yesterday that a rare skin disease has been identified in 30 people who handled live or raw fish or seafood bought in Chinatown markets in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens.

The infections are caused by Mycobacterium marinum, which can be transferred from contaminated fish or seafood through a break in the skin, according to a statement and background document posted by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC Health).

Symptoms include red, tender swelling under the skin of the hands and arms, hand and arm pain, and difficulty moving fingers, the department said. It added that early antibiotic treatment is important, and untreated M Marinum infections can become serious, requiring surgical treatment.

Officials warned the Chinatown seafood market customers and employees to wear waterproof gloves when preparing or handling live or raw seafood from the establishments, especially if they have cuts or abrasions. Health officials said there are no risks linked to consuming food from the markets.
Mar 5 NYC Health statement
Mar 5 NYC Health Q and A


Saudi Arabia reports another MERS case

For the second day in a row, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health (MOH) has announced a new case of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), this time involving an 86-year-old man from Riyadh.

The case was reported in a statement in Arabic on the MOH Web site. A translation, posted on the infectious disease blog Avian Flu Diary, indicates that the patient has no symptoms, but it gives no other details. Yesterday the MOH announced two other cases, one of them fatal, both involving men from Riyadh.

The new case raises Saudi Arabia's MERS total to 151 cases, with the death toll remaining at 62.

The World Health Organization (WHO) hasn't yet confirmed five previously reported cases in Saudi Arabia, including the two men from Riyadh, ages 55 and 51, reported yesterday, a 56-year-old woman from Riyadh, a 58-year-old man from Al-Ahsa, and an 81-year-old woman from Riyadh. The WHO's latest global MERS tally, updated Feb 28, is 184 cases and 80 deaths.
Mar 6 Saudi MOH notice
Mar 6 Avian Flu Diary post
Saudi MOH MERS-CoV page with case count
Feb 28 WHO update on MERS-CoV


Scientists report developing mouse model for studying MERS-CoV

Scientists report that they have developed a mouse model for MERS-CoV infection, possibly opening the way to test potential MERS drugs and vaccines in mice.

Mice and other small lab animals are not susceptible to MERS-CoV, and experimental infection has been demonstrated only in macaques, the authors said in a report published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The scientists are from several US universities and a research center in Madrid.

The team modified an adenovirus to express the human host-cell receptor for MERS-CoV, dipeptidyl peptidase 4. After they inoculated mice intranasally with this virus, it sensitized them to MERS-CoV. Mice infected with MERS-CoV became ill with pneumonia involving extensive inflammation, but they were able to clear the virus within 6 to 8 days. Mice with normal immune systems had mild disease, whereas immunocompromised mice were more severely affected.

In further steps, the team determined that a toll-like receptor agonist called poly I:C showed promise as a MERS treatment in mice. They also found that a Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus engineered to express the MERS-CoV spike protein might have potential as a vaccine.

The authors say it took only 2 to 3 weeks to develop the mouse model using the engineered adenovirus, whereas it can take months to years to develop transgenic mice that express a human receptor. "Our results demonstrate that this system will be useful for MERS-CoV studies and for the rapid development of relevant animal models for emerging respiratory viral infections," they assert.
Mar 3 PNAS abstract


H7N9 sickens one more in China

Health officials in China today reported one new H7N9 avian influenza infection, in a 39-year-old man from Guangdong province who is hospitalized in stable condition, according to a provincial health department report translated and posted by FluTrackers, an infectious disease news message board.

Although cases have tapered off in the outbreak's second wave, a small but steady trickle of new detections continues, especially in Guangdong, which has been one of the main hot spots over the past few months.

The new case nudges the unofficial overall outbreak total to 385 cases, with deaths remaining at 119. It raises the number of infections in the second wave to 249, compared with 136 in the first wave.
Mar 6 FluTrackers thread
FluTrackers human H7N9 case list


Consortium wins $26 million NIAID grant for Ebola, Marburg research

A consortium of two academic centers and two private companies has been awarded a US government grant worth up to $26 million to develop vaccines and treatments for the deadly Ebola and Marburg viruses, according to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), a member of the group.

The money, a Center of Excellence for Translational Research grant, was awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Other members of the consortium are Profectus Biosciences, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, according to a UTMB press release.

The funds will be distributed over 5 years, according to the release.

Thomas Geisbert, PhD, leader of the collaboration, who is a professor in UTMB's Department of Microbiology and Immunology and a member of Galveston National Laboratory, commented in the release, "We are very excited about this new grant as it combines three of the most promising post-exposure treatments that have shown the ability to completely protect animals against these deadly viruses."

Geisbert will collaborate with John H. Eldridge, PhD, of Profectus Biosciences; Ian MacLachlan, PhD, of Tekmira Pharmaceuticals; James E. Crowe Jr., MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center; and Alexander Bukreyev, PhD, of UTMB.

"We look forward to combining our vaccines with both Tekmira's therapeutics and the antibodies developed at Vanderbilt," Eldridge, chief science officer of Profectus' vaccine division, said in the release. "We are confident a combined approach will be more successful for treating these infections."
Mar 5 UTMB press release

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