Health briefs: Ebola treatment shows progress

  • Updated: August 24, 2013 - 3:52 PM
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Infectious particles of the avian H7N9 virus are seen emerging from a cell.

Photo: akeshi Noda • University of Tokyo via Science and Associated Press,

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ebola treatments shows progress in sick monkeys

An experimental Ebola treatment — produced in the leaves of specially engineered tobacco plants — saved the lives of three monkeys who were already showing symptoms of the illness, said a report published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The report suggests that it may be possible someday to treat people who show up in medical facilities already sickened with the horrific disease.

While scientists already knew that various Ebola treatments administered before symptoms appeared were effective in animals such as monkeys, they hadn’t yet shown that such treatments worked once fevers and other symptoms had set in — a key capability in real-world outbreak situations, said study co-author and virologist Gene Olinger of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md.

“We’ve pushed the opportunity to treat people to the point where they walk in and say, ‘I have a fever,’ ” he said. “A lot of folks in the field would have thought protecting an animal at the time of fever and viremia is too late to have a clinical benefit.”

Working in a high-security laboratory, the team tested the drug, known as MB-003, on seven rhesus macaques that were deliberately infected with Ebola — an RNA virus that causes fevers, sore throat, diarrhea and vomiting and internal and external bleeding. The illness is often fatal.

Four of the monkeys died of Ebola, but three survived. While 43 percent success may seem underwhelming, it’s a result that is statistically significant, the researchers said. And Pettitt said that it’s likely that if MB-003 were being administered in the field, health workers would increase the dosage and frequency of treatment once patients fell ill, perhaps to once a day. “We think we’ll get better results,” he said.

The antibodies in MB-003 are manufactured in specially engineered tobacco plants, grown in a greenhouse facility in Kentucky, Olinger said. The process is quick, currently allowing production of more than a hundred doses of the drug in a seven-day cycle.

The next step for MB-003 will be for researchers to try to improve the drug’s efficacy by incorporating additional antibodies.

Los Angeles Times

flu strain started in wild birds, but aided by ducks

The World Health Organization says that at least 135 people in China have been sickened by the H7N9 flu strain, and 44 have died. Most likely, these victims got the virus from chickens sold in live poultry markets. But where did the chickens get it? From ducks, who got it from wild migratory birds, scientists say.

In fact, migratory birds that spent time in Hong Kong probably transferred the key N9 influenza genes to domestic ducks at least twice before the H7N9 outbreak began in March of this year, said a report published by the journal Nature.

In addition, wild migratory birds from Eurasia carried an H9N2 flu strain that contributed some genes to the H7N9 strain that infects humans. But the researchers emphasized the key role of ducks in bringing all the ingredients together to create H7N9. “Domestic ducks seem to act as key intermediate hosts by acquiring and maintaining diverse influenza viruses from migratory birds, by facilitating the generation of different combinations of (.) viruses, and by transmitting these viruses to chickens,” they wrote.

Los Angeles Times

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A soft pink, a glowing red, even a cyanotic purple — millions of women and girls apply lipstick every day. And not just once: some style-conscious users touch up their color more than 20 times a day, a study said. But are they also exposing themselves to toxic metals?

Most lipsticks contain at least a trace of lead, researchers have shown. But a new study finds a wide range of brands contain as many as eight other metals, from cadmium to aluminum. Now experts are raising questions about what happens if these metals are swallowed or otherwise absorbed on a daily basis.

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