TINY MICROBES: LETHAL THREATSIn the 1950s and 1960s scientists thought that with an arsenal of antibiotics and infection control practices, they would conquer infectious diseases. But in the twenty-first century they know better. Today’s arsenal of antibiotics appears to be increasingly ineffective, with penicillin-resistant strains of diseases on the rise as microbes are able to outlast and outsmart even the best of our antibiotic weapons. Old scourges are back, and new ones are emerging, wreaking havoc from remote third world villages to modern first world cities. Consider the following:
“Mad Cow Disease” The British beef industry is in crisis, and meat eaters from Europe to the United States are nervous about the possibility of dying of that burger that they ate last year. Known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow disease,” the disease is thought to have been transmitted when cows were fed a protein-based substance (slaughterhouse leftovers from sheep and other cows) to help them put on weight and grow faster. Failure to treat this protein by-product sufficiently to kill the BSE organism left it to proliferate in and eventually infect the cows to which it was fed. The disease is believed to be transmitted to humans through the meat of these slaughtered cows. The resultant variant of BSE in humans, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and characterized by progressively worsening neurological damage and possible death, was noted in ten people in England and linked by some studies to the BSE-diseased cows. With that, the mad-cow scare emerged. As scientists continue to look at this possible link, it should be noted that such a link has not yet been scientifically verified.
Dengue and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever Dengue viruses are the most widespread arthropod viruses in the world and are transmitted by mosquitoes. Today, dengue is found on most continents, and over one half of all United Nations member states are threatened. Dengue symptoms include flu-like nausea, aches, and chronic fatigue and weakness. As urban areas become increasingly infected with mosquitoes, nearly 1.5 billion people, including about 600 million children, are at risk. Each year, it is estimated that over 100 million people are infected, and over 8,000 die. A more serious form of the disease, dengue hemorrhagic fever, can kill children in 6 to 12 hours, as the virus causes capillaries to leak and spill fluid and blood into surrounding tissue. Dengue is on the rise in the United States, largely due to increases in international travel by infected persons.
EbolaAlthough some may think the Ebola virus makes for a good movie plot, its shocking symptoms are grim reality. Ten recent victims in Gabon, Africa, pose grim testimony to its virulence. In 1995, an outbreak in Zaire killed 245 of the 316 people infected, forcing strict quarantine of the region. Subsequent infections in other regions of the world have caused increasing concern in the global community. Ebola virus, which causes fever and massive internal hemorrhaging, is fortunately not as prevalent worldwide as dengue fever.
CryptosporidiumIn 1993, the United States was shaken by the largest water-borne coccidian protozoan disease outbreak ever recognized in this country, as this once obscure intestinal parasite (Cryptosporidium) infected the municipal water supply of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, causing many deaths and illness for hundreds of thousands of people and over 4,500 hospitalizations. Exactly how the water supply became infected remains in question; however, the fact that humans, birds, and animals can carry the infective agent opens the door for many possible routes.*22/277/5*
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