HEALTH

Bacteria can anticipate future illnesses, study finds

BY Michael Johnsen

REHOVAT, Israel Israeli scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science last week released a report suggesting that bacteria can anticipate a future event and prepare for it.

In a paper that appeared June 17 in Nature, researchers determined that the microorganisms’ genetic networks are hard-wired to “foresee” what comes next in the sequence of events and begin responding to a new state of affairs before its onset.

E. coli bacteria, for instance, which normally cruise harmlessly down the digestive tract, encounter a number of different environments on their way. In particular, they find that one type of sugar – lactose – invariably is followed by a second sugar – maltose – soon afterward. Yitzhak Pilpel, professor at Weizmann Institute of Science, and his team of the Molecular Genetics Department, checked the bacterium’s genetic response to lactose and found that, in addition to the genes that enable it to digest lactose, the gene network for utilizing maltose was partially activated. When they switched the order of the sugars, giving the bacteria maltose first, there was no corresponding activation of lactose genes, implying that bacteria have naturally “learned” to get ready for a serving of maltose after a lactose appetizer.

Another microorganism that experiences consistent changes is wine yeast. As fermentation progresses, sugar and acidity levels change, alcohol levels rise and the yeast’s environment heats up. Although the system was somewhat more complicated than that of E. coli, the scientists found that when the wine yeast feel the heat, they begin activating genes for dealing with the stresses of the next stage. Further analysis showed that this anticipation and early response is an evolutionary adaptation that increases the organism’s chances of survival.

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CDC: H1N1 surges on through the spring, possibly summer

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA The novel H1N1 virus still is proliferating, even this late into the spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday during a press conference.

“As the summer is approaching, influenza season has normally ended by now. However, the novel H1N1 influenza transmission continues in the United States,” said Daniel Jernigan, deputy director of the influenza division at the CDC. “There are two areas of the country that continue to see increased numbers of patients in the clinic with influenza-like illness, [and] both of those are in the northeast part of the United States.”

Although, overall, there continues to be influenza activity reported in 17 states.

“The United States will likely continue to see influenza activity through the summer, and at this point, we’re anticipating that we will see the novel H1N1 continue with activity probably all the way into our flu season in the fall and winter,” Jernigan said. “There is a potential for this fall that we might have multiple sub-types circulating,” he added, especially as the novel virus circulates through a typical flu season across the southern hemisphere. “In the past with pandemic strains, [there] has been a replacement [virus],” he said, such as the pandemics in 1918, 1957 and 1968. “But right now, we don’t have enough information to say that there is a replacement occurring. And at this point, we are expecting — at least planning — that there will be multiple sub-types that are circulating at the same time this fall.”

As of Friday, the CDC reported 21,449 confirmed cases throughout the states and United States territories, up some 20.2% from the number of confirmed cases reported last week, including 87 deaths. New York leads the nation with the number of deaths at 24, followed by Texas with 10.

“There are some surveys that indicate that the amount of disease in the areas that are having activity with H1N1 is perhaps around 7% of the population reporting symptoms due to influenza-like illness,” Jernigan reported, so the number of confirmed cases may still be significantly under-representative of the actual number of patients who have contracted the novel H1N1 virus. “The virus continues to impact mostly younger people. So far it is not causing significant illness and death in the elderly like we would see with seasonal influenza. And the symptoms that are being reported are consistent with influenza, [those] being predominantly fever, cough, some shortness of breath, fatigue and chills,” Jernigan said, as well as some vomiting and diarrhea.

In addition, some 81 healthcare professionals also have tested positive for the novel H1N1 virus, so far. The CDC successfully tracked 26 of those professionals prior to May 13, and determined that roughly half of them contracted the virus at their workplace.

“[One] point that’s made in this report is related to the infection control measures that are used to prevent exposure of healthcare personnel to influenza,” commented Mike Bell, associate director for infection control at the CDC. “Probably the single most important thing is that infectious patients be identified at the front door. Whether these patients are coming in through the emergency department or the ambulatory care clinic, identifying them up front is essential so healthcare personnel know that they should be doing the things that we recommend; that consistent application of precautions is important to make sure that there isn’t occupational exposure.”

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AAHP responds to report that questions safety of homeopathic remedies

BY Michael Johnsen

SANTA ROSA, Calif. The American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists on Friday struck back against an Associated Press report published Thursday that questioned the overall safety of homeopathic remedies in the wake of the warning letter issued by the Food and Drug Administration to Matrixx Initiatives earlier in the week around safety concerns of two Zicam products.

“Consumers and healthcare professionals alike should be assured that the FDA’s action in regard to certain Zicam products does not apply to this class of drugs as a whole,” the association stated. “Rather, the FDA’s advisory relates only to the nasal application of a specific zinc product.”

Homeopathic medications are regulated by the FDA and have been used safely in the United States since before the passage of the 1938 federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the AAHP added. “The FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide … has been an effective and workable way to regulate homeopathic drugs since 1988, and, as shown by the FDA’s action on June 16, it allows the FDA to take action when action is required to protect the public,” the AAHP stated.

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