Super Gonorrhea Is Spreading, With Two New Cases Found in Australia!

iccgkrgnsin9pcwbskx7A photomicrograph of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the germ responsible for gonorrhea.Photo: Joe Miller (CDC)

Last month, UK health officials reported the world’s first documented case of highly drug-resistant gonorrhea. Now there are two more cases of this so-called super gonorrhea in Australia.

On Tuesday, Brendan Murphy, the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer of Australia’s Department of Health, acknowledged the cases. One patient was diagnosed in Western Australia, while the other was found in Queensland. Both are now being diligently monitored by public health officials.

“Drug-resistant gonorrhea exists in many countries, including Australia,” Murphy said in his announcement. “However, these latest cases and a recent one in the UK appear to be the first reported that are resistant to ALL of the antibiotics that have been in routine use against gonorrhoea.”

The Australian Department of Health has not immediately responded to a request for further details about the cases.

Our defenses against the gram-negative bacteria that causes gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, have been steadily failing over the years. Once treatable through penicillin alone, gonorrhea eventually became resistant to nearly every class of antibiotics available against it. By the 2010s, health agencies recommended that doctors use a combination therapy as the front line treatment—a standard oral antibiotic, azithromycin, mixed with a class of antibiotics given through injection called cephalosporins. The move only served to delay the inevitable, since signs of growing resistance against both drugs have continued to crop up worldwide in the years since.

At the same time, it’s thought that improper and uncontrolled use of antibiotics has helped fuel the emergence of superbugs. This misuse might be more rampant in poorer areas of the world, where antibiotics are often sold over the counter. The UK case and one of the Australian cases are believed to have contracted the illness while traveling throughout Southeast Asia, a region known as a hotspot for both sex tourism well as antibiotic resistance.

Cases of gonorrhea has become more common just about everywhere, though, including in Australia, in recent years.

An estimated 78 million people newly contract the germ every year, which can hide in the genitals, rectum, and throat. Many people carry gonorrhea without showing any noticeable signs, though symptoms include a green or yellow genital discharge, pain while urinating, and, for women, bleeding between periods. If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause genital scarring and inflammation, infertility, and increased vulnerability to other sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV. If it’s passed from mother to child in the womb, it can also cause birth defects or miscarriage.

There are several promising drugs in development for treating antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, but the best strategy for protecting yourself against any STD remains getting regular STD testing and using condoms during sex.

[Australian Government Department of Health]

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Bill Gates Warns 30 Million People Could Die From Flu Pandemic if We Don’t Get It Together!

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Hey, don’t freak out or anything, but Bill Gates thinks there is a new flu epidemic lurking just around the corner and we are woefully unprepared for it. The billionaire philanthropist warned Friday that there is a “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes.”

While speaking at the Massachusetts Medical Society and the New England Journal of Medicine, Gates started ringing the alarm bells about a potential new flu that could wipe out as many as 33 million people worldwide in a matter of just six months, according to the Washington Post.

 Gates, who said he’s typically an optimist when it comes to human progress, said the world and United States in particular are falling behind in “pandemic preparedness.” If there were weapons being built that could kill 30 million people, Gates said, governments would act fast to prepare for them. With biological threats, there is no sense of urgency.

This is a problem that Gates has been harping on for some time now, raising the issue at the Munich Security Conference in 2016, the World Economic Forum in Davos last year, and in an op-ed in Business Insider after that.

He cited a simulation by Institute for Disease Modeling to show just how deadly a new flu virus could prove to be when introduced to an unprepared populace, but that is far from the only source warning of such a possibility. Oxford’s Global Priorities Project released a report in 2016 showed that a natural pandemic, along with nuclear war, are the highest risks facing civilization right now.

Joining those threats as a primary concern is a variation of the natural pandemic—a deliberately engineered pandemic, such as one that could be created in a bioterrorism attack. Advances in technologies that can be used to help prevent the spread of viruses can also be used by nefarious groups to create new threats and weaponize pathogens. CRISPR, a powerful gene editing tool that promises plenty of good, could enable such an attack by malicious actors.

“The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus … or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu,” Gates warned in 2016.

Despite Gates’ continuous hammering home the possibility of biological threats wiping out large chunks of the world’s populations, his message has largely fallen on deaf ears from those who have the ability to actually do something about it.

Gates told the Washington Post that he’s met with Donald Trump to encourage the president to lead on the issue of global health security, only to have Trump tell him to follow up with officials at the Health and Human Services Department, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

Trump’s former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster took multiple meetings with Gates, but he’s been ousted and replaced with war-mongering Lorax John Bolton, who has yet to meet with Gates and likely doesn’t have much interest in what he has to say unless it involves bombing someone.

To his credit, Gates is positioning the effort that will be required to prevent a biological disaster in a way that would appeal to Bolton and other hawks in the Trump administration. “The world needs to prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war,” the former head of Microsoft said during his speech.

While Gates said he’s willing to talk to the National Security Council to address this issue, he’s trying to push the issue on all fronts. “But, you know, I think we’ve got to push this … with the executive branch and Congress quite a bit,” Gates told the Washington Post. “There hasn’t been a big effort along these lines.”

Congress did direct additional funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the recent spending bill, a small step in the right direction after the agency had to cut its epidemic prevention activities by more than 80 percent earlier this year.

“This could be an important first step if the White House and Congress use the opportunity to articulate and embrace a leadership role for the U.S.,” Gates said in the speech.

While Gates waits for the Trump administration to start taking biological threats seriously, he’s doing his part to help where he can. He announced the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with the family of Google co-founder Larry Page, will make available $12 million in grants to develop a universal flu vaccine that could protect against most strains of influenza. Still, Gates noted that vaccines take time to develop and deploy, and people will die in the meantime if other steps aren’t taken.

Serious Injuries Are More Likely to Be Fatal for People With O Blood Type!

The type of blood we carry around has hidden consequences, a new study suggest.

Illustration: qimono (Pixabay)

The thing we’re most likely to not know when filling out a government form—our blood type—might mean the difference between life and death following a traumatic injury, a new study published Tuesday in Critical Care suggests.

Researchers in Tokyo looked over the medical records of over 900 patients who had visited one of two emergency critical care medical centers in Japan from 2013 to 2016. The patients had been admitted with severe trauma, defined as any injury that could permanently disable or kill someone.

Looking at blood type alone, they found that 28 percent of people with blood type O died despite medical intervention, compared to 11 percent of people with any other blood type.

“Recent studies suggest that blood type O could be a potential risk factor for hemorrhage,” said lead author Wataru Takayama, a doctor at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University Hospital, in a statement. “Loss of blood is the leading cause of death in patients with severe trauma but studies on the association between different blood types and the risk of trauma death have been scarce. We wanted to test the hypothesis that trauma survival is affected by differences in blood types.”

Blood types are a shorthand for describing the combination of antigens that constantly cover our red blood cells. There are actually 600 of these antigens known currently, though only around a quarter are commonly seen. These antigens, inherited from our parents, can be broken down into 35 broad blood groups, with the most relevant being the ABO group and the Rhesus group. And of the 61 antigens in the Rhesus group, the most essential is the D antigen (the presence or lack of a D antigen is what we know as having positive or negative type blood)

The study can’t explain why type O people were more likely to die, but people with that blood type are known to have lower levels of the proteins responsible for controlling bleeding, called clotting factors. One of these proteins, von Willebrand Factor (vWF), is especially important in preventing major bleeding.

“Therefore, a lower vWF level is a possible explanation for the increase in mortality in patients with blood type O, as observed in this study,” the authors wrote. “However, many of the differences in the mechanisms of hemostasis according to blood type remain unknown.”

Other blood types have their own issues, the authors noted. The surplus of clotting factors found in non-O types might mean you won’t bleed to death as easily, but it also increases the chance of developing unneeded clots that get stuck somewhere and cut off blood circulation, which can cause potentially fatal embolisms. And overall, according to a 2015 review, nearly 6 percent of all deaths, including 9 percent of deaths caused by cardiovascular disease, could be chalked up to simply not having type O blood.

In Japan, though, your blood type could even have deeper consequences, since many people in the country believe that blood type can predict personality traits. People there look to their blood types in order to gain insight into their innermost workings, figure out whether that special guy or gal is truly a compatible mate, and even apparently whether they should hire someone.

Because the study sample was entirely made of Japanese patients, the researchers hope that future studies can look at different populations. That could be important because countries tend to have different distributions of blood types. In the US, for instance, about 45 percent of people have type O blood, compared to about 30 percent in Japan.

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At Least One Person Has Died After Eating Romaine Lettuce Contaminated With E. Coli!

Contaminated romaine lettuce might still linger on store shelves, the CDC says.

Image: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

A widespread outbreak of Escherichia coli linked to romaine lettuce is now believed to have sickened over 100 people in 25 states and killed one, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday afternoon. And the threat of more cases is still looming.

As of May 1, at least 121 people have contracted the same strain of Shiga-producing E. coli O157:H7 found to have contaminated supplies of romaine grown in the Yuma, Arizona region. Since the previous update on Friday, April 27, there have been 23 more cases in 10 states. The tally of cases dates back to early March, with the latest reported April 21, but people who got sick after April 11 might still take time to be tracked down by public health officials.

Of the 102 people about whom the CDC has available information, 52 have needed to visit the hospital. Nineteen have developed a form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. The single death was reported in California, one of 24 cases in total there. The state has the highest number of cases, followed by Pennsylvania with 20 and Idaho with 11.

A full list of affected states can be seen here.

Through the majority of this outbreak, health agencies hadn’t laid the blame on any one common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand. But last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration determined that cases found at a correctional facility in Alaska were likely caused by whole heads of romaine lettuce grown by Harrison Farms of Yuma, Arizona. The FDA still doesn’t know where in the supply chain this contamination happened, and the farm isn’t thought to be responsible for the majority of other cases caused by contaminated chopped romaine.

The growing season for romaine lettuce in Arizona is over, and any romaine shipped from Harrison Farms—harvested from March 5 to 16—is long past its 21-day shelf life. But there’s still a chance people could come across lettuce grown in the region. So the CDC’s warning that people avoid eating any romaine lettuce (unless you can confirm its source) remains in effect. Likewise, if you’re not sure what kind of lettuce you have, it’s best to be safe and avoid eating it.

Symptoms of O157:h7 infection include horrible stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting. These signs take about three to four days to show up after ingesting the germ. People are advised to seek a doctor if they have diarrhea that lasts for more than three days, becomes bloody, and/or is accompanied by an inability to pee, uncontrollable vomiting, and high fever.

[CDC]

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Ticks and Insects Are Making More People Sick, and the Problem Is Only Getting Worse!

The Cayenne tick, Amblyomma cajennense, can spread Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.Image: Christopher Paddock/James Gathany (CDC)

A new report out Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights a scary reality: Diseases spread by six- and eight-legged bugs are becoming more common. And worse than that, health officials across the country seem woefully incapable of dealing with them.

The report’s authors looked at available data on vector-borne diseases collected through the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System from 2004 to 2016. In total, there were over 640,000 reported cases of 16 diseases, and diseases caused by mosquitoes, fleas, and tick bites had more than tripled during that time period. Ticks caused 77 percent of these cases, and the incidence of tickborne diseases more than doubled.

“These data indicate persistent, locality-specific risks and a rising threat from emerging vector-borne diseases, which have increasingly encumbered local and state health departments tasked with preventing, detecting, reporting, and controlling them,” the CDC authors wrote.

Lyme disease was by far the most common disease, accounting for 82 percent of all tickborne illness. But nine germs never before seen in the US were also detected. There were newly discovered diseases, such as the tickborne Heartland and Bourbon viruses. There were also previously known diseases that had never been documented in the US, such as cases of relapsing fever caused by the bacteria Borrelia miyamotoi. And there were diseases that had crossed country borders for the first time, such as local cases of the mosquitoborne Zika virus that plagued Puerto Rico in 2016.

The true toll of vector-borne disease is likely far higher than the official tally, the CDC authors noted. It’s estimated that Lyme disease alone infects 300,000 Americans annually, a number tenfold higher than the reported count. And for every reported serious case of West Nile Virus—the most common mosquitoborne disease in the US—that damages the nervous system, there are anywhere from 30 to 70 milder cases that go unnoticed. Based on that math, there might have actually been between 39,300 to 91,700 of these cases in 2016, compared to the 840 that were reported.

The report doesn’t detail any commonly cited reasons for the increase, most notably climate change, something the World Health Organization cites as a key driver of vector-borne disease. In an interview with the New York Times, lead author of the report and director of the vector-borne diseases division at the CDC, Lyle Peterson, repeatedly refused to point the finger at climate change, only going so far as to discuss the likely importance of warmer weather.

Under different circumstances, Peterson’s hesistance to mention climate change could be seen as nothing more than the actions of a typically cautious scientist. But given that the Trump administration and Trump himself have been reluctant to even utter the phrase, the implications are much more worrying. In a completely normal statement, Peterson went on to tell the Times that he was “not under any pressure to say anything or not say anything” about climate change.

Other scientists aren’t as reluctant to blame it, though.

“We know that poverty is a factor as well as shifts in human migration and transportation,” Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Texas’ Baylor College of Medicine, told Gizmodo via email. “But also of great importance is climate change.”

Warmer seasons, for instance, expand the territory that troublesome tick and insect species can call home, as well as extend the time that humans come into contact with them. And extreme bursts of hot weather can provide the kindling for mosquitoborne outbreaks to spread further.

Hotez recently published a paper examining the rise of vector-borne diseases within Texas, including Zika, the fleaborne typhus, and Chagas disease, spread by a cousin of bed bugs known as the kissing bug. In it, he noted that by 2050, Texas is expected to spend 80 to 100 days blanketed in sweltering temperatures 95 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, compared to the 40 days a year seen over the previous three decades. That change, coupled with rising sea levels, is likely to contribute to the rise of these diseases.

“So I agree that climate change needs to be put out there as a major driver of vector-borne disease in the US just as it is in Southern Europe (return of malaria to Italy and Greece), schistosomiasis in Corsica, and West Nile Virus across Southern Europe,” said Hotez.

Of immediate concern, too, is the fact that few organizations and health officials have the tools needed to best combat these diseases. A recent national survey, cited by the CDC report, found that 84 percent of vector control organizations are lacking at least one of five essential aspects to their work, such as overall surveillance or ways to monitor growing resistance to pesticides.

[CDC via New York Times]

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