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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Virus Could Fend Off Pimples

Forget over-the-counter acne potions and antibiotics. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and University of California, Los Angeles have just identified a type of virus that can infect and kill the bacterium that causes acne.

In a study published in the September 25 issue of mBio, researchers say the findings could help them develop a cream that contains the virus to more effectively ward off those pesky pimples.

There are many prescription antibiotic treatments on the market for acne, but antibiotic-resistant strains of acne-causing bacterium have emerged, highlighting the need for better therapies, the study authors wrote in a press release.

Researchers used over-the-counter pore-cleaning strips to peel off samples of phages — viruses that attack bacteria  from the noses of both pimply and unblemished study participants.

They found the viruses were genetically similar from patient to patient, sharing more than 85 percent of their DNA. The lack of genetic diversity suggests that resistance to phage-based antimicrobial therapy is less likely to develop, study authors said in a press release.

“We believe that these phages display numerous features that would make them ideal candidates for the development of a phage-based therapy for acne,” the authors wrote.

Graham Hatfull, professor of biotechnology and biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the study authors, said that the enzymes from the phages might also be useful as a topical anti-acne treatment.

“This work has given us very useful information about the diversity of that set of enzymes and helps pave the way for thinking about potential [acne treatment] applications,” he said in the release.

‘Super Bug’ May Thrive in Homes Where Kids Have Staph Infections

People in the homes of children with skinand soft-tissue infections caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus have a higher rate of methicillin-resistant S. aureus colonization than the general population, a new study finds.

S. aureus infection often is referred to as Staph infection. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) — a serious public-health issue — is a contagious, antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that causes difficult-to-treat infections in humans.

This study included 183 children with S. aureus skin and tissue infections and colonization in the nose, armpit and/or groin area, and more than 600 of their household contacts, defined as people who spent more than half their time each week in the child’s home.

More than half of the household contacts were colonized with S. aureus, and 21 percent were colonized with MRSA, compared with an MRSA colonization rate of 0.8 percent to 1.5 percent in the general population, said Dr. Stephanie Fritz and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Of the 183 patients, 61 percent were colonized with MRSA, 30 percent with methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) and 9 percent with both forms. Of the household contacts, 53 percent were colonized with S. aureus. Of those colonized with the bacteria, 36 percent had MRSA, 60 percent had MSSA and 4 percent had both.

Among the patients’ household contacts, parents were most likely to be colonized with MRSA. The researchers also found that the groin area was a major site of MRSA colonization.

The study was published June 4 in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The researchers noted in a journal news release that household members of patients with S. aureus infections are not routinely checked for S. aureus colonization. Shared objects and surfaces in the home are potential reservoirs for S. aureus transmission, and the failure to identify all household members with colonization may result in constant colonization or repeated infections.

It is not known, however, if routine household sampling or decolonization would be practical or cost-effective, the study authors concluded.

‘Fish Pedicure’ a Recipe for Bacterial Infection

“Fish pedicures” in health spas can expose recipients to a host of pathogens and bacterial infections, a team of researchers warns.

The practice of exposing your feet to live freshwater fish that eat away dead ordamaged skin for mainly cosmetic reasons has been banned in many (but not all) American states, but it is apparently a hot trend in Britain.

So much so that the British researchers sent their warning in a letter published in the June issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officially known as “ichthyotherapy,” the procedure typically involves the importation of what are called “doctor fish,” a Eurasian river basin species known as “Garra rufa.” The fish are placed in a spa tub, the foot (or even whole body) joins it, and the nautical feeding on dead or unwanted skin begins.

The problem: such fish may play host to a wide array of organisms and disease, some of which can provoke invasive soft-tissue infection in exposed humans and many of which are antibiotic-resistant, according to the scientists from the Center for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in Weymouth.

In the letter, CEFAS team leader David W. Verner-Jeffreys referenced a 2011 survey that suggested the U.K. is now home to 279-plus “fish spas,” with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 fish coming into the country every week from a host of Asian countries.

Verner-Jeffreys noted that in April 2011, 6,000 fish imported from Indonesia for U.K. fish spas were affected by a disease outbreak that caused hemorrhaging of their gills, mouth and abdomen, resulting in the death of nearly all the specimens.

In turn, U.K. scientists uncovered signs of bacterial infection (caused by a pathogen called “S agalactiae”) in the fishes’ livers, kidneys and spleen.

Following this discovery, Verner-Jeffreys said, his team conducted five raids on imported fish batches coming through Heathrow Airport, which uncovered further signs of infection with a number of additional pathogens. Many of those were found to be resistant to such standard antimicrobial drugs as tetracycline, fluoroquinolone and aminoglycoside.

“To date, there are only a limited number of reports of patients who might have been infected by this exposure route,” Verner-Jeffreys said in his letter. “However, our study raises some concerns over the extent that these fish, or their transport water, might harbor potential zoonotic disease pathogens of clinical relevance.”

At particularly high risk, the scientists said, were people already struggling withdiabetes, liver disease and/or immune disorders.

Verner-Jeffreys suggested that spas offering fish pedicures use disease-free fish raised in controlled environments.

George A. O’Toole, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., added his own concern.

“I would stay away from this experience,” he said. “It’s probably not feasible to sterilize these fish. And as for the water itself, even if you dump it between patients, these organisms will form rings of biofilm communities attached to the surface of the tubs themselves. It’s like a contact lens case that you never disinfect. Simply wiping them down is not good enough. Unless you’re incredibly responsible about sterilizing those tubs you’re not going to kill them, and they will reseed the next batch of water. The whole thing is a bad idea.”

Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and pathology at New York University Medical Center in New York City, agreed.

“It’s a bad idea in several ways,” he said. “Because these pathogens can give you a serious wound infection. Or blood-borne infection. Or diarrhea. Or even pose a threat to a pregnant woman’s fetus or newborn.”

“Really, you have the potential for multiple types of infection,” Tierno added. “Because theoretically when you’re touching the area that has been nibbled on by these fish, you can still have the organisms there. And then you can inadvertently touch your mouth and introduce them into your system.”

Summer’s Heat May Enflame Hives

Nearly one in four people developshives at some time or another, and they can be triggered by hot summer weather.

Hives are itchy, red or white bumps, welts or patches on the skin. The condition can be acute or chronic, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Acute hives, which can last less than a day or up to six weeks, are likely a reaction caused by contact with an allergen such as food, animal dander, insect bite, pollen or latex.

Other possible triggers included medications, heat, stress, exercise, chemicals or viral infection.

The academy says you should consult with your doctor to identify the cause of acute hives.

Most people with chronic hives have symptoms that last longer than a year. Allergies cause only a small percentage of chronic hives. In most cases of chronic hives, the exact cause can’t be identified. This means that routine testing such as general blood counts or screens are not cost-effective and don’t help in planning treatments to relieve symptoms, according to an academy news release.

Hives are not contagious, and most cases get better on their own. Doctors may advise patients to avoid hot baths and showers, wear loose-fitting clothing, or take antihistamines to reduce itching and swelling.

Corticosteroids are prescribed for people with severe flare-ups of hives. In rare cases, hives can be a symptom of a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Call 911 if you or someone else experiences hives along with any of these symptoms: fainting, shortness of breath, tightness in the throat, tongue/face swelling, or wheezing, the academy said.