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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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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Tick & Mosquito Infections Are Rapidly Spreading, CDC Says, & Here’s What You Need To Know!

Summer is actually, for real, truly and honestly, nearly here. I can smell it in the air. For those of us living in the northern part of the North American continent, it’s pretty exciting times after such a long and difficult winter. So the arrival of summer should be nothing but good news, right? Well… yes and no. Because the CDC says tick and mosquito infections are rapidly spreading, so parents are really going to want to stay ahead of the game when it comes to protecting their kids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported a serious increase over the last 10 years in illnesses that can be traced back to mosquito and tick bites. Data collected by the CDC between 2004-2016 found that 640,000 illnesses from flea, tick, and mosquito infections were reported in the United States. Nine new germs have also been introduced or newly discovered since 2004 as well. The real issue appears to be the massive increase in reported cases of vector-borne diseases; vectors are mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas that spread pathogens through their bites. The plague is a vector-borne disease, for instance, and has been around for many years, but there are some new vector-borne diseases, like Heartland virus disease and Bourbon virus disease, which have been discovered more recently. And these vector-borne diseases have more than tripled since 2004; from 27,388 then to 96,075 in 2016.

CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement on the agency’s website that a “growing list of diseases caused by the bite of an infected mosquito, tick, or flea—have confronted the U.S. in recent years, making a lot of people sick. And we don’t know what will threaten Americans next.”

The goal of the CDC is to try to control the spread of mosquito and tick infections, but there are several issues making it difficult, including the introduction of mosquito-borne illnesses from around the world like the Zika infection, the steady increase of tick diseases, and the need for better public health programs at the state level to track these infections and properly deal with outbreaks if they occur. As CDC director of the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases Lyle Petersen noted:

The data show that we’re seeing a steady increase and spread of tickborne diseases, and an accelerating trend of mosquito-borne diseases introduced from other parts of the world. We need to support state and local health agencies responsible for detecting and responding to these diseases and controlling the mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas that spread them.

With the warmer weather fast approaching, it seems more important than ever to be fully prepared and informed to stave off mosquito and tick bites. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and your family from mosquito and tick based infections.

Now before you panic and think to yourself, That’s it, I’m staying inside until winter, it’s OK. There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from mosquito, tick, and flea infections:

• Always use an EPA-registered insect repellent

• Don’t just use the insect repellent on your person; treat things like boots, socks, pants, and tents with permethrin, especially if you’re going to be in a heavily wooded area like a forest. You can also buy permethrin-treated clothing and camping gear.

• Wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants

• Avoid areas where the mosquito population might be heavier, like near standing water in pools

• Treat your pets for flea and tick control

• If you find any ticks or fleas on your pets, get rid of them. It’s also a good idea to check daily.

• Keep air circulating in your house with fans (because mosquitoes are not strong fliers) and keep the outside of your home free of standing water where mosquitoes will breed.

Summer can still be fun and safe, of course, but it’s probably a pretty good idea to take some important steps to protect your family from mosquito, tick, or flea bites before heading outside to enjoy some sunshine.

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