What’s it like to work an Ebola outbreak?

As another Ebola outbreak simmers in Uganda (and appears to be increasing), I recently was in touch with Zoe Young, a water and sanitation expert with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF*, known in the US as Doctors without Borders), who was working in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the DRC Ebola outbreak earlier this fall (and blogging it!)

Regular readers know of my interest in this virus, but I’m obviously geographically removed from any of the outbreaks. As such, Zoe and her colleague, physician Armand Sprecher, were generous enough to answer my questions about their work with MSF and the Ebola outbreak in particular; our conversation is after the jump.
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Influenza meta-update: H5N1 spreading, new swine influenza virus found

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research It’s been awhile since I wrote anything on influenza. It’s certainly not that nothing interesting has happened recently–far from it, there are new stories on influenza out every day. Rather, there are just a lot of people out there covering it, and covering it well. However, it’s been an unusually busy few days on the influenza front, so I thought I’d update after the jump.
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Fecal transplants to cure Clostridium difficile infection

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research In my field, many things that cause the average man-on-the-street to get a bit squeamish or squicked are rather commonplace. My own studies include two types of bacteria that are carried rectally in humans (and other animals), so I spend an absurd amount of time thinking about, well, shit, and the lifeforms that inhabit it and collectively make up our normal gut flora. The vast majority of these species don’t harm us at all, and many are even beneficial: priming our immune system; assisting in digestion; and filling niches that could be colonized by their nastier bacterial brethren.

It’s typically when there’s some disturbance in these flora that bad things happen. For example, you may ingest food contaminated with a foreign bacterial strain that may transiently colonize your intestines, resulting in cramping and diarrhea. Typically these infections are self-limited and your normal flora “resets itself” after a short time, but some pathogenic bacteria have a propensity for making themselves at home in your gut. How to get rid of these nasty invaders then? Antibiotics are one option, but they also kill your regular bacteria, potentially making the problem worse (especially if the nasty invader happens to be resistant to many antibiotics). There has been a large increase in the use of probiotics–formulations designed to add beneficial bacteria to your gut. However, these have largely not been rigorously tested or regulated, so it’s unsure how well they actually work.

What if, instead of re-constitituing healthy gut flora one species at a time, you could simply take the entire fecal contents from a healthy person and use it to re-colonize your own gut–in other words, undergo a fecal transplant? Yes, it’s like probiotics on steroids: getting an infusion of someone else’s gut flora in order to re-establish a healthy gut ecology of your own, and squeeze out some potentially harmful organisms along the way. A recent story discusses this treatment for patients suffering Clostridium difficile infections in Scotland, but it’s actually not brand-new, and has already surfaced in the peer-reviewed literature. More after the jump…
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Presidential debates with an extra helping of science

Just a P.S.–if ignorance like Mike Huckabee’s comments on HIV/AIDS drives you nuts, check out what Chris and Sheril (among others) have put together, calling for real debate on science and technology issues by the presidential candidates:

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we, the undersigned, call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Medicine and Health, and Science and Technology Policy.

Doesn’t matter what your party affiliation or candidate of choice is–if you agree these topics are important, check out the ScienceDebate 2008 website.

Discovery Institute bloviates. Again.

I mentioned that the Discovery Institute was in Iowa yesterday, accusing Iowa State University (and specifically, professors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy) of conspiring against assistant professor Guillermo Gonzalez, an intelligent design advocate and fellow of the Discovery Institute. I was unable to attend, but Evil Monkey headed to Des Moines to cover the event, and has his initial thoughts on the dog ‘n’ pony show up at Neurotopia.