Norovirus under the microscope
A recent study released by the CDC has determined that norovirus is now the leading cause of gastroenteritis among U.S. children less than 5 years of age. In 2009 and 2010 alone, about 1 million children landed in the doctor’s office or hospital due to the virus, racking up an estimated $273 million in treatment costs per year.
Norovirus (often referred to as "stomach flu" or "food poisoning") is characterized by nausea, intense vomiting, and severe diarrhea, sometimes leading to dangerous levels of dehydration. Infections are on the rise worldwide and can be especially dangerous for those with more susceptible immune systems, namely the elderly and young children. In fact, researchers predict that 1 in 14 children will visit an emergency room and 1 in 6 will receive outpatient care for norovirus infections before their 5th birthday. Read more >>
CDC microbiologist Alicia Shams demonstrates the most common form of CRE growing on an agar plate.
CDC Director Tom Frieden dubbed CRE (short for Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae) a ‘nightmare bacteria’ in a recent press conference calling on health officials to work together across the board to contain the superbug.
CRE strains, according to Dr. Frieden, pose a “triple-threat” because:
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- They are resistant to all or nearly all antibiotics
- They have a high mortality rate, killing up to half of infected patients
- They are capable of spreading their resistance to other bacteria, passing along genes that can spur on the development of new superbugs equally undeterred by current antibiotics
A recent study from UCLA has uncovered a devious strategy bacteria use to fool the immune system into harboring and even protecting them: masquerading as a virus.
Researchers demonstrated that certain bacteria were able to elicit an incorrect immune response, prompting the release of interferon-beta, a protective protein designed to fight viruses. Not only is interferon-beta ineffective against bacteria, its presence can actively inhibit interferon-gamma, a protein released when the body correctly recognizes a bacterial threat.
This finding helps shed light on the mechanisms underlying the increased vulnerability to bacterial infections after contracting a viral infection like the flu.
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