Tag Archives: ebola

Uh Oh! Scientists show Ebolavirus can be transmitted by air

Kaye Beach

Nov. 16, 2012

Truly frightening!  Look what just rolled across the ProMed newswire;


Canadian scientists have shown that the deadliest form of Ebolavirus
could be transmitted by air between species.

In experiments, they demonstrated that the virus was transmitted from pigs to monkeys without any direct contact between them. The
researchers say they believe that limited airborne transmission might
be contributing to the spread of the disease in some parts of Africa.
They are concerned that pigs might be a natural host for the lethal
infection. Details of the research were published in the journal

Scientific Reports [Hana M Weingartl et al. Transmission of Ebola
virus from pigs to non-human primates.


Scientific Reports 2, Article
number 811, doi:10.1038/srep00811;

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the infection gets
into humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs,
and other bodily fluids from a number of species, including
chimpanzees, gorillas, and forest antelope. The fruit bat has long
been considered the natural reservoir of the infection. But a growing
body of experimental evidence suggests that pigs, both wild and
domestic, could be a hidden source of Zaire Ebolavirus, the most
deadly of the Ebolaviruses. Now, researchers from the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency and the country’s Public Health Agency have shown
that pigs infected with this form of Ebolavirus can pass the disease
on to macaques without any direct contact between the species.

In their experiments, the pigs carrying the virus were housed in pens
with the monkeys in close proximity but separated by a wire barrier.
After 8 days, some of the macaques were showing clinical signs typical
of Ebolavirus [infection] and were euthanised. One possibility is that
the monkeys became infected by inhaling large aerosol droplets
produced from the respiratory tracts of the pigs. Pigs could act as a
host and amplify Ebola-like viruses. One of the scientists involved is
Dr Gary Kobinger from the National Microbiology Laboratory at the
Public Health Agency of Canada. He told BBC News this was the most
likely route of the infection. “What we suspect is happening is large
droplets; they can stay in the air, but not long; they don’t go far,”
he explained. “But they can be absorbed in the airway, and this is how
the infection starts, and this is what we think, because we saw a lot
of evidence in the lungs of the non-human primates that the virus got
in that way.”

The scientists say that their findings could explain why some pig
farmers in the Philippines had antibodies in their system for the
presence of a different version of the infection called Reston
Ebolavirus. The farmers had not been involved in slaughtering the pigs
and had no known contact with contaminated tissues. Dr Kobinger
stresses that the transmission in the air is not similar to influenza
or other infections. He points to the experience of most human
outbreaks in Africa. “The reality is that they are contained, and they
remain local; if it was really an airborne virus like influenza is, it
would spread all over the place, and that’s not happening.”

The authors believe that more work needs to be done to clarify the
role of wild and domestic pigs in spreading the virus. There have been
anecdotal accounts of pigs dying at the start of human outbreaks. Dr
Kobinger believes that if pigs do play a part, it could help contain
the virus. “If they do play a role in human outbreaks, it would be a
very easy point to intervene,” he said. “It would be easier to
vaccinate pigs against Ebolavirus infection than humans.”

Other experts in the field were concerned about the idea that
Ebolavirus was susceptible to being transmitted by air even if the
distance the virus could travel was limited. Dr Larry Zeitlin is the
president of Mapp Biopharmaceuticals. “It’s an impressive study that
not only raises questions about the reservoir of Ebolavirus in the
wild but, more importantly, elevates concerns about Ebola as a public
health threat,” he told BBC News. “The thought of airborne
transmission is pretty frightening.”

[byline: Matt McGrath]

communicated by:
ProMED-mail <promed@promedmail.org>

[The reference for the original publication is: Hana M Weingartl,
Carissa Embury-Hyatt, Charles Nfon, Anders Leung, Greg Smith, Gary
Kobinger. Transmission of Ebola virus from pigs to non-human primates.
Scientific Reports 2, Article number: 811 doi:10.1038/srep00811;
The abstract of the paper reads as follows:

“Ebola viruses (EBOV) cause often fatal hemorrhagic fever in several
species of simian primates including humans. While fruit bats are
considered the natural reservoir, involvement of other species in EBOV
transmission is unclear. In 2009, Reston-EBOV was the 1st EBOV
detected in swine with indicated transmission to humans. In-contact
transmission of Zaire-EBOV (ZEBOV) between pigs was demonstrated
experimentally. Here, we show ZEBOV transmission from pigs to
cynomolgus macaques without direct contact. Interestingly,
transmission between macaques in similar housing conditions was never
observed. Piglets inoculated oro-nasally with ZEBOV were transferred
to the room housing macaques in an open, inaccessible cage system. All
macaques became infected. Infectious virus was detected in oro-nasal
swabs of piglets and in blood, swabs, and tissues of macaques. This is
the 1st report of experimental interspecies virus transmission, with
the macaques also used as a human surrogate. Our finding may influence
prevention and control measures during EBOV outbreaks.”

These experiments are interesting in that they demonstrate the
susceptibility of pigs to Zaire Ebolavirus and that the virus from
infected pigs can be transmitted to macaques under experimental
conditions by an aerosol route. They fall short of establishing that
this is a normal route of transmission of Ebolavirus in the natural
environment. The evidence that pigs play a role in the transmission of
Ebolavirus, other than Reston Ebolavirus, remains circumstantial but
something that should be pursued with urgency. It is curious that
transmission between macaques in similar housing conditions was never
observed. – Mod.CP

Clearly Ebolavirus is very contagious but there is only weak
circumstantial evidence that transmission from pigs occurs via the
porcine breath aerosol. Anyone who has been around pigs knows that
they urinate and not in dribbles. Splashing urine (+ Ebolavirus) could
readily produce a urine mist that could make its way to an immediately
adjoining cage with macaques and in their grooming themselves get
infected. – Mod.MHJ


“Secret Agents”

Hunting for a book to read among the stacks of Romance novels belonging to my Dad’s wife, I struck gold! No. Not a bodice-ripping racy pirate lover story.

I found “Secret Agents. The menace of emerging infections”

A longtime fan of “Hot Zone” virus hunter-type of non fiction, this is one of the few I haven’t read.
“Secret Agents” was written in 2003 and in a topical fashion covers a few of the more interesting challenges and feats of scientists in the last 20 years.

Bird flu gets a fast but interesting pass as does the story of Jeffrey Taubenberg and his side kick Ann Fein who decided to find and genetically sequence the entire 1918 pandemic influenza virus. Ann Fein was a part time, un-credentialed genius with respect to her dexterity and tenacity in gene sequencing.

Taubenerg had developed specific skills retrieving virus samples from extremely degraded carcasses of sea animals when he worked on tracing the spread of the morbillivirus that was first recognized back in 1987 when a die off of bottlenosed dolphins took place near the Jersey shore and they began washing up on the beach. He also was the head of the molecular pathology department at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and was looking for a vehicle to showcase his new talent when the 1918 flu pandemic was mentioned setting off young Jeffrey’s “Aha!” moment leading to a plan that would gain him some professional notariety. He enlisted Ms. Reid to do her microscope magic upon specimens preserved from military victims of the 1918 pandemic which were catalogged at the National Tissue Repository, a dividion of the AFIP.
For 15 months the lady toiled with not one bit of success. Then her luck changed with the sampling of one specimen, finally, that retained some reproducable bits of the killer virus.
Reid labored over the degraded sample and designed a method to string together bits until she had assembled a grand total of 5 small pieces of the identifying genes.
Taubenberger, eager to publish sent their results paper to several science periodicals and was rejected repeatedly until the editor of “Science” took an interest and published the work in the March 1997 issue. Taubenberg got the recognition he wanted.
The pair’s conclusion was that the 1918 pandemic flu wad none other than H1N1-swine flu.
But that was only left Doc Jeffrey hungry for more. He wanted the entire sequence of that flu bug that killed millions worldwide (estimates run 20 to 40 million)so he set Ann back to work, hunting through the Repository for another round and while they did find another specimen bearing some usable material, it was not enough to complete the sequence.

That is when Johan Hultin discovered Taubenberger and offered to gain access to a cache of Inuit Indian pandemic victims buried in the frozen tundra of Brevig Mission located due south of the Bering Strait.

They went, they dug, and the found the formerly plump remains of a well preserved woman who possessed within her lungs a generous amount of the deadly H1N1 virus from the 1918 flu pandemic. The long dead woman was named Lucy.

Hultin had made this dig years before in a quest to find some of the live virus so he could fulfill his long standing dream of cracking the 1918 flu. That dig took place in 1951 but after doing everything he could think of, Hultin could not revive the virus and had to move on to more practical and profitable work. Taubenberger was his last shot in realizing his dream. The rest is history.
Creepy huh?

The exceptional aspect of “Secret Agents” is the deft manner in which the author weaves one story into another. She really does a great job of storytelling.

Anthrax is given a place in the book for it’s properties that make it a truly dreadful bioweapon.

In A textile mill in New Hampshire that experienced the worst known epidemic of inhalation Anthrax in our nations history. (until the mailings after 9 11) In a casual manner, the author makes mention of the fact that, “ironically” at the same time of this unprecidented outbreak, mill workers were taking part in a test of a new Anthrax vaccine.


The year was 1957 and 4 workers died (all either unvaccinated or “controls”) Who was in charge of the testing.

The CDC.

At this point I stopped reading and pounded a few terms into my iphone then clicked on the story below which fills in the details of the strangely coincidental vaccination testing and rare outbreak.

I am blogging this on my iPhone as I am without an Internet connection, so please forgive any formatting weirdness


Excerpts from a story found online;

The new charges concerning domestic experiments center primarily on a 1957 anthrax outbreak in Manchester, New Hampshire. In August and September of that year, three employees at the Arms Textile Mill contracted anthrax inhalation and died. A fourth employee died in October and a few weeks earlier five other employees came down with cutaneous anthrax, a less dangerous form of the disease. A fifth employee came down with inhalation anthrax on September 5, but remarkably recovered from the disease.

In an amazing coincidence, at the same time of the Arms outbreak, the mill was the site of tests using an experimental anthrax vaccine. The Biological Warfare Laboratories of the U.S. Chemical Corps at Fort Detrick, Frederick, Maryland, sponsored the tests, which began quietly in May 1955.

Additionally, Fort Detrick scientist, Dr. George G. Wright, developed the prototype vaccine used at the mill. The vaccine was briefly produced a few years later by the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme, today Merck and Co., Inc. Company head, George W. Merck, was a principal advocate of biological warfare in the 1940s and 1950s and was a founder of Fort Detrick. Wright’s vaccine is essentially the same serum administered today to American military personnel and others at risk to anthrax.
Also involved in the 1957 Arms mill tests, according to declassified Fort Detrick documents and former scientists who worked on the project, were Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, and Britain’s top secret Microbiological Warfare Research Laboratories at Porton Down.
Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist who chairs the Working Group on Biological Weapons for the American Federation of Scientists, has also aggressively advanced this same hypothesis. According to an “Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks” released by Rosenberg early last month, “the FBI has known that the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks is American” for over three months, but speculates Rosenberg, the perpetrator may be “untouchable to the FBI” because he may “know something that he believes to be significantly damaging to the United States.” Also, in early February, Rosenberg told Salon reporter, Laura Rozen: “This guy knows too much, and knows things the U.S. isn’t very anxious to publicize.”
Without doubt, the anthrax investigation, which thus far has visibly produced little in the way of hard results, has generated a number of embarrassing reports to the federal government. First, there was the revelation that the anthrax strain used in the attacks came from a government-sponsored laboratory which in turn obtained the anthrax from the British government’s Porton Down facility which in turn obtained it from Fort Detrick. That strain, commonly called the Ames strain, originated from specimens taken in 1979 from an infected dead cow by scientists at Iowa State University’s Ames Laboratory. The strain’s moniker came into play in 1980 after Fort Detrick researchers requested a virulent culture sample from the University. Once received, the Army dubbed it the “Ames strain.”

…Second, came reports that the Army has been unable to account for many of its anthrax specimens and that, since at least 1992, some have been misplaced, lost, or stolen. The Army admits that a 1992 audit at Fort Detrick discovered that nearly a dozen anthrax specimens were missing.  Of equal concern is that the same audit revealed that other specimens of the deadly Ebola virus were also missing.
Third, is the Army’s “lack of security” at some of its assumed “highly secured” Fort Detrick laboratories. A January 20, 2002 article in the Hartford Courant by Jack Dolan and Dave Altimari states that two former Fort Detrick scientists “said that as recently as 1997, when they left, controls at Fort Detrick were so lax it wouldn’t have been hard for someone with security clearance for its handful of labs to smuggle out biological specimens.” The same article quotes the former chief of one of Fort Detrick’s laboratories, Lt. Col. Michael Langford, as saying that the lab he took over in 1992 had “little or no accountability” and that he ordered an immediate inventory of the facility.

According to other former Fort Detrick scientists, some of the specimens that Langford’s audit revealed missing were “tissue samples” taken from “dead animals and humans who had been infected with lethal diseases.”
Reports of lack of security perhaps should come as no surprise to the Army or FBI investigators. In September 1986, Neil Levitt, a former laboratory director at Fort Detrick’s Research Institute on Infectious Diseases, publicly claimed that security was so lax at the facility that someone walked off with “more than a quart” of a deadly virus. The virus caused a disease called Chikungunya, an affliction found in Africa and Asia that produces rapid and severe flu-like symptoms.

(I have recently seen an article warning that the US should expect to hear more about this disease with the strange name. Ax)

Equally embarrassing to the government have been reports over the past five months that were recently confirmed by a December 23, 2001 Baltimore Sun article by reporter Scott Shane. The article revealed that Fort Detrick scientists had harvested bacteria from the dead bodies of persons “accidentally infected” with anthrax. Several former Army researchers who are now retired and live in Florida, including Bill Walter who to reporter Shane, have reported that at least three people affiliated with Fort Detrick who died from anthrax had their cadavers harvested so as to assist in the development of a new virulent anthrax strain. Army officials dispute these reports and say that harvesting was never performed at Fort Detrick. However, the same officials admit that accidental anthrax deaths did occur at the facility.

One of the allegedly harvested bodies was that of a Fort Detrick microbiologist, Dr. William A. Boyles.

According to former colleagues, Boyles died on November 25, 1951 after “accidentally inhaling anthrax spores used in a controlled experiment.” Within 48-hours Boyles fell seriously ill and developed an extremely high fever. According to once classified Army documents, Boyles was first taken to a public hospital in Frederick, Maryland and then within hours transferred to the Fort Detrick Hospital where oddly the day before he had sent home after being diagnosed as having a common cold. Boyles died after slipping into a coma five hours after his transfer.

The Army falsified his death certificate and issued a press release stating he had died from bronchial pneumonia. In 1975, after the Army admitted covering-up Boyles’ death, his widow told reporters that she was not bitter about the Army’s deception, but was angry that the private physician who admitted her husband to the public hospital had been harshly reprimanded for bringing in a patient “with such a contagious disease.” (According to the CDC, anthrax is “not contagious.”)

For years speculation that the Arms Textile Mill anthrax epidemic may have been far more than an accidental occurrence has been the subject of debate among scientists. In 1999, former United Nations official and BBC correspondent, Edward Hooper, published a book entitled, “The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS.” Buried deep within the 1,070-page tome is a brief section that concerns the Arms Mill outbreak. Hooper’s research inadvertently led him to the incident through his unrelated interviews with Dr. Stanley A. Plotkin who at the time of the Arms tests worked for the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service and was assigned to medically evaluating the anthrax outbreak.

In 1960, Dr. Plotkin wrote a medical paper on the Arms outbreak, which is still widely circulated and studied today among anthrax experts. Published in the American Journal of Medicine and entitled, “An Epidemic of Inhalation Anthrax, the First in the Twentieth Century,” it was co-authored with Dr. Philip S. Brachman who was the U.S. Public Health Service’s chief epidemiology investigator of the 1957 outbreak. Oddly, the paper, which meticulously details the facts of the Arms Mill outbreak, makes no mention whatsoever that Fort Detrick had any involvement in the events surrounding the outbreak or that the mill had been the simultaneous site of anthrax vaccine tests.