TWiV 298 letters

Mike writes:

Hello TWIV gang,

Love the podcasts and videos that you have produced thus far!  I am currently an undergraduate in Nova Scotia completing a double major in biochemistry/microbiology and am really keen on virology.  A microbiology/virology professor introduced me (and the rest of my introductory microbiology class) to the podcast last year and I’ve been tuning in for every episode since.  Also, I love the lectures Vincent has provided online, as they have been a valuable resource as I prepare to enter a strenuous semester this coming fall.

One of my favourite aspects of the show is your commentary on current events in the news, especially when talking about topics that the general public are perhaps misinformed about (ie NEIDL/CDC mishap/MERS/etc).  The most recent outbreak of ebola certainly highlights just how much hysteria can be generated about a single topic, often because the media chooses to appeal to the viewer’s sense of fear to increase ratings…

I don’t know if this would be considered a “listener’s pick”, but I thought I would share an example of terrible coverage of this current ebola epidemic:

http://banoosh.com/blog/2014/08/03/ebola-outbreak-may-already-uncontrollable/

There is so much wrong with this article, which isn’t surprising considering the source. Normally, I would shrug off these articles as silly and move on.  What bothers me, however, is that many folks online are turning to similar “alternative news sources” as a means of informing themselves on current events. I’ve found this particular example making the rounds on facebook and many people seem to take it at face value. People repeat this misinformation frequently and even have developed ridiculous conspiracy theories about the origins of the ebola virus…

A question for Alan and Vincent: Do you find that the growing amount of “alternative news” websites poses a serious threat for reliable science journalism to communicate effectively online?

Hopefully this email is coherent. Enjoy your summer, folks!

Thanks for reading,

Mike

PS: The weather in Halifax NS is quite cool, with a current afternoon temperature of 18 degrees celsius and overcast skies that are set to give way to thundershowers.

Phoebe writes:

Hi, Vincent et al.,

I am a microbiologist at a liberal arts college.  My students and I love your show.

I just read a paper in which the authors show that ion channel blockers already in use for various cardiovascular problems inhibit filovirus entry at clinically relevant concentrations in cell culture.

Although I know a little about clinical trials starting from scratch, I do not know how trials for off-label use of medicines proceed.  Do they still begin with extensive testing in animals, for example?  Can you talk about that, or discuss off-label use of pharmaceuticals to treat viral infections, if that has turned out successfully in the past?

The reference for the 2014 publication I am referring to is pasted after my signature.  What do you think, would you try these drugs as pre-exposure prophylaxis if you were about to volunteer in a hospital during the current outbreak?

Will you let me know if you plan to address my question on the podcast, please?

Cheers from Colorado Springs!

-Phoebe Lostroh

Associate a Professor of Molecular Biology

Director, Feminist and Gender Studies

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24710028

J Antimicrob Chemother. 2014 Aug;69(8):2123-31. doi: 10.1093/jac/dku091. Epub 2014 Apr 7.

Adam writes:

Dear Vincent and guests:

I wanted to write in and thank you for devoting an entire TWiV to the current Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa. The reality is that West Africans are not the only populace with a rather poor knowledge of the ebolaviruses and EVD, most people in Western nations have largely received what little (if any) knowledge they have from sensationalized news articles filled with references to the infamous 90% CFR, and the (still not entirely well established, despite the porcine study you mentioned) claim of aerosol transmission in Reston Virus (RESTV) and a certain New York Times bestselling book. I’m just starting my PhD and as I plan to work with these and other unpleasant viruses, I’ve been the recipient of a carpet bombing of email, text messages, etc. with questions, most of them on the order of “Are we all going to die?”. So thank you for providing this podcast and other links for me to provide along with my answers. (Oh, and I seem to recall that someone mentioned that ZEBOV would be a good name for Zaire ebolavirus. That actually was the abbreviation for some time before it was changed by ICTV a few years ago. Attached is the paper describing the changes in taxonomy.)

Sincerely,

Adam

Paul writes:

Thank you. This is a fantastic podcast. Absolutely everything I was looking for: Comprehensive, objective and accessible.

All the information a concerned citizen needs in a glycoprotein envelope—I am busily infecting my colleagues and friends with accurate news.

Thanks again. A grateful listener.

Paul

Marty writes:

Thanks for taking the Ebola crisis once again in Twiv!

I am a retired computer science professional and became interested in virology as the H1N1 pandemic began.  I decided to track the case data coming from WHO and CDC.  I thought it would be instructive to watch the the data in real time.  This the lead to finding your course out on ITunesU and I watched every  video.  I love math so did some research and found some journal articles on several variations of the SIR model and used Mathcad to do some modeling based based upon the data.

I’m now watching the data on the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa and I’m concerned about what I am seeing (plot done in Maple):

Ebola cases

 

It looks like prior to day 50  control measures were working and the rate of change in cases was decreasing and approaching 0.   Do you have any thoughts on what happened between day 50 and day 60 to generate what now appears to be continuing exponential increase in the number of cases.  I ran a log linear regression from day 59 (May 23) onward and calculated  that number of cases is doubling every 29 days.  Given that this is partly driven by sociological factors, very limited medical facilities and the current rate of growth in the number of cases, is it possible to regain control of this?

Regards,

Marty

Laila writes:

Thanks for sharing your timely thoughts on this issue! I’m curious, though: why the dismissal of Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone”? Does every science writer have to be a scientist? Isn’t it enough to have qualified sources and fact-checking? Yes, the book was luridly written and portrayed certain personalities in a less-than-flattering light, but I couldn’t find much mendacity in what he presented. If you could share any mistakes that stood out for you, it’d be appreciated, as this book still pulls a lot of social weight; not only because it was a best-seller 20 years ago — it’s required reading for countless secondary school curricula.

Colm writes:

FU to last episode, paper on HT antiviral screening in BSL-4.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24735442

John writes:

Ron Paul is advocating DDT use for Ebola:

http://www.voicesofliberty.com/video/ebola-crisis-how-dangerous-is-it/

But to put it in further perspective, I mean, there are 1,700 or so that have been infected in southern Africa. Also there has been over 900 deaths. So it’s nothing to laugh at. But there are 627,000, mostly children, who die every year from malaria in the same region of the world, in the southern part of Africa. And there are 207 million cases every year. So that’s a big issue. But we can sort of forget about that and not worry about it. Some people get involved in a controversial argument about this and say there hasn’t been a lot of help since the DDT has been removed from the market. That’s very controversial, and nobody wants to hear about that.

The actual, absolute proof of the danger of DDT was never completed, as far as I’m concerned. DDT was cheap and it was never known to kill anybody. Instead, what we use is very expensive organic phosphates, which do kill people. They are very dangerous to the human being. But I think if we try to put this in a better perspective, if DDT isn’t quite as dangerous as they said, and you could save a million people a year from getting this illness, maybe we should think about it.

John writes:

Dear plague panic preventing podcasting professors,

Your Ebola discussion mentioned that ZMapp only provides temporary protection, but did not say how long.  According to the internet, the lifetime of antibodies in blood can be days to a few weeks depending on type.  How long do the ZMapp antibodies last?

This doesn’t matter if antibodies are given as post-exposure treatment.  If a large quantity were available it could be given preventively, say to health care workers, and then the duration of protection would be important.

John

P.S.  It is 22 C and sunny in eastern Massachusetts and more importantly the dew point has dropped to a tolerable 10 C.

P.P.S.  Can a triple monoclonal antibody be called a triclonal antibody?

James writes:

Kia ora folks,

In TWiV 297 Vincent makes an offhand comment wondering why people in Beijing would be researching Ebola.

China has quite a strong economic and diplomatic commitment in Africa so (it) has many expats located in the areas endemic to things like Ebola. So just like the US put research effort into diseases that were in areas where Americans were but (the diseases) never were in the US, so does China.

Keep up the neat work,

James Sullivan

Wellington, NZ

Louis writes:

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5144a1.htm

Louis M. Katz MD

Chief Medical Officer

America’s Blood Centers

Washington DC, 20005

Jacob writes:

Hi all,

Greetings from sunny Australia (12°C and 30km/h winds)!

Saw this email today about the 2015 Viruses Awards and thought it should get some air-time on TWiV.

http://www.mdpi.com/journal/viruses/awards.pdf

Thanks,

Jacob

Sydney, Australia.

Jelle writes:

Dear Vincent and other TWiV-gang members,

During the many years I have worked on the genetic characterization and evolution of human and animal rotavirus as a PhD student and as a post-doc, I always had the feeling that I wanted to know more about other viruses, but I just never got around doing it, as I didn’t know where to start. TWiV has been the perfect solution to this problem, and ever since I discovered TWiV, I have been an avid listener during my daily 40 minute commute to the lab and back home.

I was very pleasantly surprised to hear Sarah McDonald on your latest show (TWiV 285), and even more so that she mentioned some of our work. It was also nice to hear that you know Ulrich Desselberger. He is a very good friend of mine, was a jury member during my PhD defense in 2008 in Leuven, Belgium, and he is one of the grandfathers of rotavirus research, and as Sarah mentioned, still actively doing research at the bench.

Because one of the recurring themes on TWiV is “viruses isolated from bats”, I would like to add a small chapter to this story line. As Sarah mentioned, human rotaviruses have a limited number of conserved “genotype constellations” which seem to be most fit, despite the fact that the VP7 and VP4 outer capsid proteins appear to be more readily exchanged during reassortment events. Although the number of completely sequenced animal rotavirus genomes is more limited in comparison to human rotavirus strains, it also appears that different animal species, such as pigs, cattle and horses, also possess a set of rotaviruses with more or less conserved genotype constellations.

The first partially sequenced bat rotavirus genome was published by Mathew Esona and colleagues, and this rotavirus was isolated from a straw-colored fruit bat in Kenya (PMID: 21122212). I was involved in a paper describing the second bat rotavirus, which was sequenced completely after its detection in a viral metagenomics study in lesser horseshoe bats in China (PMID: 24027312). The genotype constellation of this second Chinese bat rotavirus strain was entirely different from the first bat rotavirus strains from Kenya.

Recently this same Chinese group found another bat rotavirus in a Stoliczka’s trident bat in a location more than 400 km away from the place where the first Chinese bat rotavirus strain was identified. Complete genome analysis of this strain revealed that the genotype constellation of the two Chinese bat rotavirus strains was nearly identical, except for the VP4 outer capsid protein. This suggests that this genotype constellation might be typical for Chinese bat rotaviruses, although further research is warranted.

Further phylogenetic analyses surprisingly revealed that an unusual completely sequenced equine rotavirus strain from Argentina, and two partially sequenced human rotavirus strains from Thailand, shared a nearly identical genotype constellation with the two Chinese bat rotavirus strains, suggesting that these unusual human and equine rotaviruses may be examples of direct interspecies transmissions from bat rotaviruses to humans and horses, respectively. We have submitted these findings as a dispatch to Emerging Infectious Diseases.

If these findings would be further confirmed, rotavirus can be added to the growing list of bat viruses that can be transmitted and cause disease in other host species such as humans and horses.

I hope you like this new chapter to the TWiV “bat virus story line”, and I would be happy to hear your thought on it.

Keep up the awesome work,

Jelle (pronounce as “yellow” but replace the “ow” by the same sound as the “e” in “yellow”; does this make sense? I will not bother trying to explain how my last name “Matthijnssens” is pronounced J)

PS: The current weather in Leuven is 19°C (67°F), clouded with a humidity of 77%.

Joe writes:

Twivers,

Two follow ups:

First, Fair and balance alert! You all were whacking the anti vaxers on the right appropriately hard, but here in CA I run into many more anti vaccine advocates who are on the extreme left and very vocal about it.  Mostly seems to come down to the FACT that vaccines are Not Natural and contain chemicals and impurities. Jenny McCarthy is the obvious example. In fact we a have a local left-leaning alternative high school that has had a series of outbreaks over the years due to the concentration of unvaccinated kids. I can remember  them being in the news for Mumps and Meningitis and I think Measles. Stupidity finds a home in all portions of the political spectrum. My favorite delusional science explanation from my public outreach days was the person who with great earnestness told me that: “Of course the Gaia Hypothesis is science, That is why it is called a hypothesis!” Hard to argue with that!

Second, With respect to the Tamiflu review, a couple of thoughts.  I would argue that Roche was fairly accurate in their marketing on the drug related to efficacy in that I started listening to TWIV several years ago when as a risk manager I was trying to decide how seriously to take the H5N1 threat. Vincent et al. convinced me at that time that there was little value in stockpiling Tamiflu at a personal level due to the limited impact on symptoms and contagion. The new data seems pretty consistent with that past assessment at least to the limited degree that I have followed it.

As a risk management professional, I object to the damning characterization of Roche as “having not broken any laws” as very unfair. I would state it as Roche tried their best to develop the most effective anti flu drug they could in full compliance (as far as we know) with all the large number of conflicting  laws and regulations that apply. They spent a lot of money on a risky discovery effort that apparently showed positive effects in the various models prior to human testing. I have not heard any evidence so far that they cheated or lied. It is fair to argue if the drug is good enough, but one can say with certainty that Tamiflu is better than all the drugs that their critics did not get around to inventing.

Finally, it seems very reasonable to me that various countries decided to stockpile the drugs as a mitigation measure –  if you put yourself in the place of manager in charge of deciding on national pandemic response measures. You are on the hot seat in the media and have politicians demanding a plan that they can get behind. The experts are able to give a very large list of things we don’t know and very few of them have enough data to “prove the negative” case that the threat is low. When you try to build a response plan, you are confronted by the glaring lack of any really effective options to protect your population. In that setting, even a drug with marginal effectiveness looks like a much better option than doing nothing. Planners did a lot (of) very good smaller improvements to our response plans, related to coordination of service providers and communication to responders and the public. As someone who know how hard it is to run a response, I was very happy to see those systemic improvements. Unfortunately the folks in the media don’t want to be bothered with those details, they want a homerun solution that will calm the public fears. Stockpiling some drugs “just in case” is an obvious easy sell that might be career-ending to resist. And who knows, the drugs might turn out to be more effective on the pandemic strain. A more effective strategy for use might be discovered when the safety protocols are relaxed during a crisis. It might reduce fears in the middle of the pandemic.  A key principle in risk management – that we forget at our peril – is that all risk decisions are made by humans with limited information in the moment. Personally I think they made the right decision at that time and I am very glad that we did not have to use them!

As always love the shows, etc., etc.

dence

Joe

EH&S Manager

Jon sent:

http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Mrs-Robinson-are-you-trying-to-get-me-to-listen-to-your-podcast-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i10818404_.htm

Simon writes:

Dear TWIV Team,

I only recently discovered your excellent podcasts, and already I’m hooked. My fascination with viruses actually first started when I was 11 or 12 and was doing some research for a school presentation. I thought their simplicity and elegance was absolutely amazing.

I still remember searching for information about viruses on AOL and Ask Jeeves (the search engines of choice at the time), and most of what I learned came from the encyclopedia britannica and the CDC.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I came across your virology blog via your tour of the NEIDL. I quickly became a regular reader and twiv listener, and am currently working my way through the Virology part I lectures. I love listening to episodes while I am traveling to and from work or in the kitchen, and I often wish I could pop by and join-in the fun.

I have far too many questions, but today I will limit myself to therapies.

I recently came across the following article from Dr. Gregory Poland, of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, which discusses the possible reemergence of measles as a serious health threat due to failures with the existing vaccine, for example failure to develop protective antibody levels in some patients, as well as waning in immunity over time leading to previously immunized individuals later developing infection.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905323/

Do you have any comments on the effectiveness of the measles vaccine? Would it make sense to require previously vaccinated individuals to have a booster later on in life? Are you aware of other commonly used vaccines which have similar issues?

Secondly, I have also been taking a course on the structure of DNA, and came across the concept of DNA origami. One potential use of these geometric shapes created out of strands of DNA could be to enable targeted drug delivery within the body (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-09/02/dna-cages-drug-delivery and http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v5/n10/full/nchem.1745.html).

As I have been learning more about viruses, it occurred to me that maybe a similar approach could be taken to removing virions from the body – that is open cages that could ‘snap shut’ like a mousetrap once they came into contact with a virion. Perhaps these cages could contain receptors specific to the virus they are meant to be targeting.

I know that this sort of medical nanotechnology is still a long way from becoming a reality, but I wondered if you could give me your thoughts on the potential for this type of post-infection approach?

Thank you so much for the work you are doing in providing these excellent resources on such an interesting topic. Keep up the great work.

Michelle writes:

Fan feedback:

Hello Twivers!  I have been following the TWIV podcasts for the past year and I am an ever-growing fan of your work!  I love the depth of each discussion as well as the variety of topics covered in each episode.  One year ago, I finished my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine and immediately started a PhD in Veterinary Pathobiology/Virology.  My virus of focus is African Swine Fever, the only known DNA arbovirus and sole member of the family Asfarviridae (though I’ll bet you already knew that).  Having gone from only a basic understanding to a currently deeper (yet ever-growing) understanding of virology this past year, I have really enjoyed learning through your podcasts.  I started out having to look almost everything up that you guys discuss now to completely understanding about 85% of the material covered (still learning though!)  I often listen to your podcasts while running, but sometimes that proves difficult because I want to write notes on things to look up later…

Thanks again for the great content and keep up the good work!  From Geelong, VIC Australia and Manhattan, KS United States

Kim writes:

Hi,

I would like to give a pick of the week. I recently noticed that Nobelprize.org has started uploading podcasts, both on their website and also found on Itunes. These podcasts are interviews with Nobel laureates, very similar to the kinds you do sometimes with specific researchers. Thus, you are probably happy that someone else is helping you collect interviews with important researchers onto the web!

Here’s the link: http://www.nobelprize.org/podcast/

I highly recommend episode 25 with Tim Hunt!

Best regards,

Kim

Johnye writes:

Something that probably is not a suitable pick, but at ~ 6 min, George offers his thoughts on why there are viruses. Who knew.

Warning, this link contains adult, mature language. Not suitable for young tender innocent ears!

Check out this video on YouTube:

http://youtu.be/NL8HP1WzbDk

Johnye Ballenger, M. D., FAAP

West Cambridge Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jennie writes:

Dear TWiV team,

Given the TWiV story arc of zombies, and the occasional confusion about the nature of a zombie threat expressed by some hosts, I thought you might want to see the US Strategic Command’s Counter-Zombie Dominance Plan. http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/05/16/dod.zombie.apocalypse.plan.pdf

The Plan “to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde” includes a number of measures related to the potential infectious origin of zombies:

Pathogenic Zombies: PZ’z are zombie life forms created after an organism is infected by a virus or bacteria or some other form of contagion (p. 6)

There is no known medical cure for a zombie pathogen. At this time it can be assumed that once a human turns, they cannot be cured or reverted to human status. Seek out the nearest CDC for any hopes of medical breakthroughs during a time of a pandemic. ( p. 14)

there may be times when [Individual Healthy Humans] will be forced to abandon other IHHs who are unable to evade sources of zombie contamination. Such situations could arise while IHHs are evacuating in the face of incoming zombie forces. IHHs must not be allowed to ‘go back for’ family, friends or other personnel who cannot get away from zombies quickly enough. (p. 30)

Of course, a disclaimer on the Plan states that “members of a USSTRATCOM component found out (by accident) that the hyperbole involved in writing a ‘zombie survival plan’ actually provided a very useful and effective training tool. . . . we elected to use a completely-impossible scenario that could never be mistaken as a real plan.” (pp. 2-3).

Or is it?

Enjoy,

Jennie