Category Archives: Danger danger danger!
Every summer I work at a boathouse in Rockville, Maryland. For the past two summers we have had signs posted all around the lake warning of contaminated water. This summer our boathouse was even interviewed and shown on the news, due to this problem. County officials tested the waters and claimed that the water was safe for individuals to stay in the vicinity, but unsafe if ingested in large amounts. Therefore the boathouse stayed open. Large controversy surrounded my area of work for the past two consecutive summers concerning a topic I knew little about. This all changed once I entered Microbiology class this semester. I find it interesting that the information I learned in this class touched on a topic so close to home for me.
A new piece of information I picked up working at the boathouse this past summer is that all lakes in Maryland are man -made. Due to such high amounts of fertilizer run off in suburban areas the majority of bodies of water in the Chesapeake Bay area are contaminated with the same microorganisms that Lake Needwood was. But what was this microorganism? We as Park staff were told that the water contained blooming Blue Green Algae scientifically known as Cyanobacteria, specifically it “contain[ed] strains of Microcystin, which can damage the liver and cause gastrointestinal discomfort when ingested and cause minor skin irritation upon contact” (Lui,2013).
To the common person who is uninformed on the classification of microorganisms this sounds extremely dangerous and makes it seem as though even being in the same vicinity of a body of water with this algae could be detrimental to one’s health. Even to an Employee in the loop on the status of the water safety, the water’s presence of this unknown algae frightened me, as it is common that we as park staff dip our feet into the water often as we load patrons onto boats. However, as I have almost completed a semester on Microbiology I know understand a lot more on the specifics of the issue.
Specifically, one concept I learned in class this semester is that the majority of algae species do not harm the human body. Unfortunately there are certain types of Algae blooms that can produce toxins that can affect a number of living beings including humans. However, simply touching contaminated water with the skin is not known to be fatal, only drinking large amounts is known to cause fatality.
In the article reporting the presence of Blue green Algae at Lake Needwood, it discusses that a park Patron, which was mistakenly reported rather than a park employee, took samples of the lake that were sent out to be tested in order to determine the type of bacteria present. I along with my boss was the park employee who collected these samples and sent them to be tested. I find it ironic that only this past summer I had no idea what I was doing when I was collecting samples at work on a microorganism, but now I understand thanks to Micro lab and specifically, our water and food analysis lab what went into testing for the unknown in the water sample. It is very rewarding to me to be able to understand on a different level what exactly was wrong with the water I work with during the summer. My new perspective on the understanding of microorganisms and how to perform tests to identify them will better help me explain the health risks to park patrons visiting this coming summer.
Steph Bower (11 AM Micro) is very worried about nosocomial infections, and the possibility that our TV clickers might be reservoirs of disease. I submit for your enjoyment a photo I took with my cruddy flip phone of the TV remote when I went to this year’s Pennsylvania Academy of Science meeting, in scenic Bradford County. No one got sick with TV disease at that meeting! Here’s Steph’s summary:
After what seems like a spurt of bad luck running in my family, I have found myself visiting a lot of healthcare facilities within the last year. Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Physical Therapy offices, and hospice centers; you name it I have most likely visited it myself or with a family member. After talking about nosocomial infections in class, I started thinking about all the indirect transmission that occurs in these healthcare facilities with infections finding homes especially on fomites even after daily cleaning. I then remembered a strange device I encountered on one of my trips to a Hospice Center called a “Clean Remote”.
If you really think about it, what is something that never seems to get cleaned even in our own households? I cannot tell you the last time I even wiped down my remote. The Clean Remote website stated “in several studies, TV remotes have been revealed to be a leading carrier of bacteria in a patient’s room”. It is true that many inanimate objects such as a remote could be an exogenous source to nosocomial infections within healthcare facilities with nurses, doctors, family members, and other staff members constantly coming into contact with such items. One study, according to the American Journal of Infection Control discussed the increased surface area due to the cracks and crevasses being the main culprit of bacteria growth on clickers even after cleaning occurred.
The website cited a study conducted by The University of Arizona in which they tested different brands of remotes including their “Clean Remote” after cleaning for the number of MRSA and VRE bacteria. Of course the Clean Remote contained the least about of bacteria at 10,251 compared to the closest Panasonic remote which had 1,315,00 bacteria. You would think the “Clean Remote” has a special disinfectant or something really unique about it that causes it to have such a “clean nature”. But no, in true fashion it is just about making money. The only true difference between a regular remote and a “Clean Remote” is that there are no cracks or crevasses and it is made of a non-porous material. There will still be bacteria found on the clicker as shown by their study, but just relatively fewer.
This just shows you the direction our society is going in. The world is just about making money. “To show your facility cares about your patients” the website reaps as a marketing tool. So if you want to reduce the risk of spreading infection within your own home, a clean remote can be yours for only $9.95 just don’t forget to clean it. It is suggested you clean your “clean remote” daily to prevent the spread of infection. However if you want to save some money, wikiHow gives some cool tips on how to clean your regular remote with cotton swabs and common cleaning supplies for the less of us who are not germaphobes .
Cheyenne Bohlen (11 AM Micro) found this article via LiveScience about a mysterious outbreak. Here is Cheyenne’s summary:
An article I read over the weekend from Livescience may make you re-think jumping into that cool pond this summer. Just north of Las Vegas, New Mexico on August 27, 2013 a hunter stumbled upon something very strange. On the 700 plus acre ranch he found the remains of over 100 elk. What was even stranger to officials was that all the elk seem to have died within a 24 hour timespan. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish investigated the incident and came up with no explanation. However, they did rule out a few possibilities as to why so many elk died so quickly. They ruled out poachers, anthrax, lightning strikes, epizootic hemorrhagic disease (a virus known to effect deer), botulism, poisonous plants, and agricultural accidents. Further investigation showed no toxins in the stomachs of the elk and no toxic plants were found in the area. So what killed these elk? Conspiracies ran rampant as to why these elk mysteriously died. People started saying it was UFO’s or even el Chupacabra. Although we like to blame bizarre occurrences on urban legends the culprit was much smaller. Tissue tests from the elk and water samples from the surrounding area found the real killer was pond scum!
A type of blue-green algae that grows in ponds and other stagnant water sources produces a neurotoxin that if drank will cause death within minutes or just a few hours. Anabaena flos-aquae develops in warm, stagnant water and produces anatoxin A which blocks acetylcholine receptors in the muscles of animals. From A&P we all learned that blocking acetylcholine receptors prevents muscle stimulation. Respiratory failure will occur because the lungs will not be able to contract and the animal will unfortunately suffocate to death very quickly. This toxin is similar to the paralyzing toxin curare that was common on the poison-tipped arrows of South American tribes.
It is very important that people do not drink from stagnant water! Next time you plan on swimming in a pond or other stagnant water look for the presence of a blue-green algae on the top of the water and try not to swallow any water. A lot of people let their pets drink stagnant water but again you need to be on the lookout for this for their health as well. For farmers and ranchers it is recommended that water trove’s for animals be sanitized often to prevent the growth of this algae. This toxin can kill extremely quickly so it is important to keep you and your animals protected!
Gabrielle Wallace (11 AM Micro) found this alert about a current outbreak at a major US university. Bacterial meningitis outbreaks due to Neisseria meningitidis have historically been very common in the close quarters of college dormitories, however a very effective vaccine has greatly diminished the incidence of this disease. Indeed, proof of vaccination against bacterial meningitis is required for matriculation at York College of Pennsylvania. Here is Gabrielle’s summary of a new twist on an old problem:
Unfortunately at Princeton University in New Jersey, what students may have thought was only the flu, was a rare outbreak of meningitis. Meningitis is often mistaken for the flu because the same symptoms occur: headache, fever, vomiting, rashes, and sensitivity to light. (NJ.com) Along with these symptoms, this type of meningitis also causes swelling of the membranes covering your brain and your spinal cord (USA today). Serogroup B meningitis is so rare that we don’t even have a FDA (Food and Drug Administration) vaccine for it in the United States. This strain of serogroup B meningitis is usually only seen in Europe or Australia, and luckily they do have a vaccine for it that the U.S may use. (NJ.com)
Last week the FDA allowed the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to obtain “an investigational drug” from outside the country. CDC spokeswoman, Barbara Reynolds, spoke how Bexsero, the investigational drug, will not be widely available throughout the country. She also brought up that she does not remember when, but this was not the first case of serogroup B meningitis that broke out in the U.S. The only problem was, back then they did not have the vaccine available anywhere in the world. Meg Fisher, a medical director for the Unterberg Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, stated that even though there are different types of this serogroup B strains in different parts of the world, it is still worth a try to use a vaccine from out of the country.
One of the reasons this outbreak is such a big deal is because this is classified as an epidemic. As Fisher stated, “The definition of an epidemic is an increase over the expected number so this definitely constitutes an epidemic. The length of the epidemic is unusual as well.” (NJ.com) The New Jersey Department of Health specified that seven people in all contracted the disease this year. Six of those people were students and one was a campus visitor. All but for one student recovered, the one student still remains hospitalized. (USA Today)
Princeton University has not made any announcements yet but Martin Mbugua, Princeton University’s director of media relations, stated “We will be discussing it with our trustees this weekend and when we have something to announce we will make an announcement” (NJ.com). The school has told students to start washing their hands, to cover their cough, and to not share drinks. It can also be spread by kissing, sneezing, or being in contact with someone for a long period of time. One really bad thing about meningitis is that it can be spread easily in small conditions, such as a dorm room.
The ironic part of this situation is in September, Princeton University handed out 5,000 red, 16-oz. cups labeled “Mine. Not Yours.” There hope was to get students to stop sharing drinks with each other. Which like I said earlier, is a common way to spread meningitis (NJ.com). Even though this is a rare strain of meningitis it is always possible for an outbreak of any strain of meningitis to occur at anywhere, even our school! So college kids beware, wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, and always remember: Mine, Not Yours.
We have a two-fer in this week’s CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report; several “Notes from the Field,” and an outbreak of Salmonella. Imagine my surprise to see that the Salmonella outbreak was from a college microbiology laboratory. Actually, I wasn’t surprised at all, and BIO230 students will recall that I warned of these dangers in our very first class meeting this semester. The CDC reports that a case of salmonellosis was verified by the Maine Center for Disease Control in May 2013, and a second case was additionally reported shortly thereafter. Both patients complained of diarrhea, fever, and nausea, after attending Microbiology lab at a local community college. Molecular characterization of the patient isolates were identical, and further matched the isolate used in the class laboratory exercises.
Members of the Maine state testing laboratory visited the community college lab, and interviewed faculty and students to determine what infection control practices were in place. Survey results indicated that erratic personal protection methods were in place, including inconsistent and improper use of gloves, as well as inconsistent hand washing. Examination of control practices in the laboratory were unable to pinpoint the source of the infection, which may have resulted from direct handling of Salmonella cultures, a spill, or lab equipment that may have become contaminated. Recommendations from review of policies were much in line with the recommendations from the prior Salmonella outbreak. First, personal protective equipment including gloves, proper clothing, lab coats, and safety goggles should be used under all conditions where infection risk exists. Second, lab coats must remain in the laboratory, and can only leave the laboratory after being autoclaved. Third, all personal items such as cell phones must remain outside of the laboratory. Infectious agents may remain viable for extended periods of time, and are easily removed from the controlled laboratory setting on these items. Forth, hand hygiene remains one of the most effective methods for controlling infection in and out of the lab. Adherence to these rules of Microbiology Club will ensure that we have happy students, and happy instructors!
I was over at the vet’s office on Friday, and while I was waiting for Happy the Hamster to finish up with her exam, I noted this news alert from CatChannel.com up on the office wall, with the intriguing headline “Good kitty, Good science, Bad journalism”. The editorial took the national news media to task for their reporting of an extensive behavioral study from the journal JAMA Psychiatry (note: free access to the article if you get to it via the YCP Library page). The study followed a cohort of over 45,000 women in Denmark over the period of time from 1992 to 2006, and examined the question as to whether Toxoplasm gondii infected women were at any higher risk for self-directed violence or suicide. The story was widely reported when it came out, and according to CatChannel.com, inappropriately slanted the findings of the study to overemphasize the potential risks due to Toxoplasma infection. My interest in this story reflects both my role as a litter-box cleaner, and as a student of the dangers of Toxoplasma.
Here is the Danish study in a nutshell: 45,778 Danish women were enrolled in a study from between 1992 and 1995, shortly after giving birth. At this time, blood was drawn from the infant to determine whether the subject was asymptomatically infected with the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Because newborn babies do not produce antibody themselves at this time, the presence of Toxoplasma specific antibodies in the baby’s circulation result from the passage of antibody from the mother across the placenta prior to birth. Subjects were followed through a blinded study (investigators never knew the identity of any of the subjects), and assessed for self-directed violence, suicide attempts, and suicide.
The study found that approximately one quarter (26.8%) of the population was seropositive for Toxoplasma antibodies, suggesting potentially sub-clinical infection. Of the 45,000 subjects followed through the study period (over half a million person years), researchers found that 488 had a first contact for some indication of self-directed violence. These subjects were then followed up through the remainder of the study period regardless of their serological status to Toxoplasma. When seropositive and seronegative subjects were finally compared at the end of the study, it was found that seropositive subjects (i.e. those who had a positive titer of antibody to Toxomplasm gondii at the time of their child’s delivery) had a 1.53-fold higher risk of committing a violent act against themselves. The authors of the study propose a potential mechanism to explain the results, and suggest that an inflammatory response designed to keep the pathogen in check might cause activation of certain neuronal cells and lead to behavioral changes. The authors note that the study cannot distinguish between the direction of causation–an alternative hypothesis might be that a preexisting neuroimmune abnormality might make an individual more susceptible to Toxoplasma infection.
Toxoplasma infection (over one quarter of the women enrolled in the study!), it makes no attempt to identify the source of their infections. Cat feces are certainly an important route of transmission, and indeed if you go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s site on toxoplasmosis, cats are the first animal mentioned on the page, and they explicitly recommend that if you are pregnant you should have someone else clean the cat box. However, with such a high rate of infection, a more significant risk of infection are other environmental sources such as gardening in soil that is contaminated with the organism.