Monkeypox has been making the news lately, and it has a lot of people wondering what it is, how it spreads and if they should be concerned. Understandably, we are all a little jumpy when we start hearing about a new viral outbreak, but monkeypox isn’t new. While the virus gained its unfortunate name from its discovery in monkeys in 1958 (1), it exists in a wide range of mammals including rodents, anteaters, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, squirrels and shrews (2) and can spread to humans through close contact with an infected animal.
A member of the Poxviridae family, monkeypox is closely related to the variola virus that causes smallpox; however, monkeypox causes milder symptoms and is rarely fatal (3). The genetic variant of the virus that is causing the recent outbreaks has a fatality rate of <4% (4). In contrast, smallpox fatality rate was close to 30% (4). Symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle and back pain, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion (2). The most distinguishing symptom is the blister-like rash.
Most of us, after we flush the toilet, don’t think twice about our body waste. To us, it’s garbage. To epidemiologists, however, wastewater can provide valuable information about public health and help save lives.
History of Wastewater-Based Epidemiology
Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is the analysis of wastewater to monitor public health. The term first emerged in 2001, when a study proposed the idea of analyzing wastewater in sewage-treatment facilities to determine the collective usage of illegal drugs within a community. At the time, this idea to bridge environmental and social sciences seemed radical, but there were clear advantages. Monitoring wastewater is a nonintrusive and relatively inexpensive way to obtain real-time data that accurately reflects community-wide drug usage while ensuring the anonymity of individuals.
If we’ve learned nothing else since February or March of 2020, we’ve learned that emerging infectious diseases are a real threat to human health globally. In a bad news/good news kind of way, Bartonellosis is an emerging infectious disease; however, it’s not spread by airborne droplets or respiration.
But if any of your family pets bring a flea or tick into the house, or if you live in proximity to mice, rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, sheep, horses or cattle–you could be at risk.
Bartonella sp. is a Gram negative, rod-shaped bacteria that has been around since ancient times. It’s the bacteria responsible for cat scratch disease (1) and for Trench fever (2), which affected soldiers during WWs I and II, and affects people living in over-crowded, unsanitary conditions around the world today.
Bartonella sp. are known to be spread by vectors such as fleas, which are part of the transmission cycle for cat scratch disease and the human body louse, the vector for transmission of Trench fever (3).
This animal-to-human transmission of Bartonella sp. classifies it as a zoonosis.
Infection due to Bartonella sp. often appear to be self-limiting, such as swelling in regional lymph nodes due to a cat scratch disease. In such cases, symptoms can subside without intervention. But Bartonella sp. have a nasty habit of hiding in red blood cells and in cells lining blood vessels, where they can remain undetected for a substantial period of time. This hiding place affects a host’s ability to mount an immune response, as well as affecting the ability of antibiotics to attack the bacteria.
Once the purview of virology researchers, the word “coronavirus” is now part of the vernacular in the mainstream media as reports of quarantined cruise ships (1) and makeshift hospitals (2) fill our online news feeds. While there is currently no approved anti-viral treatment for coronavirus infection (3), a team led by researchers from Vanderbilt University recently published work characterizing the anti-CoV activity of a compound, which they now plan to test against 2019-nCoV (4).
Developing New Therapeutics Against Coronaviruses
Coronaviruses (CoVs) are enveloped, single-stranded RNA viruses that exhibit cross-species transmission—the ability to spread quickly from one host (e.g., civet) to another (e.g., human). Scientists classify CoVs into four groups based on the nature of the spikes on their surface: alpha (α), beta (ß), gamma (γ) and delta (δ, 1). Only the alpha- and beta-CoVs can infect humans. Four coronaviruses commonly circulate within human populations: Human CoV 229E (HCoV229E), HCoVNL63, HCoVOC43, and HCoVHKU1. Three other CoVs have emerged as infectious agents, jumping from their normal animal host species to humans: SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and most recently, 2019-nCoV (5).
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