USGS study finds Lichens may be key to fighting Chronic Wasting Disease; CDC learns pet Frog breeder source of Salmonella outbreak; FDA approves new test for Toxoplasmosis; Hantavirus reports from Colorado, and Maine; a Coyote report from Mississipppi; Lyme Disease forums to be held in New Hampshire, and New Jersey; and Rabies reports from New Jersey, Texas, and Virginia. Travel Warnings for Dominica.

Bull moose. Public domain photo. Wikimedia Commons.

National 05/18/11 Certain lichens can break down the infectious proteins responsible for chronic wasting disease (CWD), a troubling neurological disease fatal to wild deer and elk and spreading throughout the United States and Canada, according to U.S. Geological Survey research published today in the journal PLoS ONE.  Like other “prion” diseases, CWD is caused by unusual, infectious proteins called prions. One of the best-known of these diseases is “mad cow” disease, a cattle disease that has infected humans. However, there is no evidence that CWD has infected humans. Disease-causing prions, responsible for some incurable neurological diseases of people and other diseases in animals, are notoriously difficult to decontaminate or kill. Prions are not killed by most detergents, cooking, freezing, or by autoclaving, a method used to sterilize medical instruments.

Dr. Christopher Johnson

“When prions are released into the environment by infected sheep or deer, they can stay infectious for many years, even decades,” said Christopher Johnson, Ph.D., a scientist at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center and the lead author of the study. “To help limit the spread of these diseases in animals, we need to be able to remove prions from the environment.” The researchers found that lichens have great potential for safely reducing the number of prions because some lichen species contain a protease enzyme (a naturally produced chemical) capable of significantly breaking down prions in the lab.

Whitetail deer with CWD

“This work is exciting because there are so few agents that degrade prions and even fewer that could be used in the environment without causing harm,” said Jim Bennett, Ph.D., a USGS lichenologist and a co-author of the study.  CWD and scrapie in sheep are different than other prion diseases because they can easily spread in sheep or deer by direct animal-to-animal contact or through contact with contaminated inanimate objects like soil. Chronic wasting disease was first diagnosed in the 1960s and has since been detected in 19 states and two Canadian provinces. CWD has been detected in wild elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer and moose in North America.  Lichens, said Johnson, produce unique and unusual organic compounds that aid their survival and can have antibiotic, antiviral and other chemotherapeutic activities. In fact, pharmaceutical companies have been examining the medicinal properties of lichens more closely in recent years.

Lichens on rocks.

Lichens – which are often mistaken for moss – are unusual plant-like organisms that are actually a symbioses of fungi, algae and bacteria living together. They usually live on soil, bark, leaves and wood and can live in barren and unwelcoming environments, including the Arctic and in deserts.  Future work will examine the effect of lichens on prions in the environment and determine if lichen consumption can protect animals from acquiring prion diseases. Contact: Gail Moede 608-270-2438 United States Geological Survey

National 05/20/11 mmwr 60(19);628 – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is collaborating with state and local public health departments in an ongoing investigation of human Salmonella Typhimurium infections associated with African dwarf frogs (ADFs). ADFs are aquatic frogs commonly kept in home aquariums as pets. From April 1, 2009 to May 10, 2011, a total of 224 human infections with a unique strain of S. Typhimurium were reported from 42 states. This outbreak likely includes considerably more than the 224 laboratory-confirmed cases reported to CDC; only an estimated 3% of Salmonella infections are laboratory confirmed and reported to surveillance systems.

The median age of patients in this outbreak was 5 years (range: <1–67 years), and 70% (156 of 223) were aged <10 years. No deaths have been reported, but 30% (37 of 123) of patients were hospitalized. Sixty-five percent (56 of 86) of patients interviewed reported contact with frogs in the week before illness; 82% (45 of 55) reported that this contact took place in the home. Of those who could recall the type of frog, 85% (29 of 34) identified ADFs. Median time from acquiring a frog to illness onset was 15 days (range: 7–240 days).

African Dwarf Frog

Samples collected during 2009–2011 from aquariums housing ADFs in six homes of patients yielded the S. Typhimurium outbreak strain. Traceback investigations conducted during 2009–2011 from 21 patient homes and two ADF distributors identified a breeder in California as the common source of ADFs. This breeder sells ADFs to distributors, not directly to pet stores or to the public. Environmental samples collected at the breeding facility in January 2010, April 2010, and March 2011 yielded the outbreak strain. Based on these epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory findings, the breeder voluntarily suspended distribution of ADFs on April 19, 2011. Public health officials are working with the breeder to implement control measures.

Distribution of ADFs currently is unregulated by federal or state agencies. To prevent infection, the public needs to be aware of the risk of Salmonella infections associated with keeping amphibians, including frogs, as pets. Education of consumers, health-care professionals, and the pet industry is needed. Persons at high-risk for Salmonella infections, especially children <5 years, pregnant women, and immunocompromised persons, should avoid contact with frogs, water used by the frogs, and their habitats. Additional information is available at

National 05/19/11 A new test to detect whether a toxoplasmosis infection has been acquired within the past four months has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Vidas Toxo IgG Avidity Assay — approved for people with a toxoplasmosis infection confirmed by other methods — can be used to validate whether infection by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite is less than four months old. Human antibodies triggered by the parasite behave differently after four months than they do initially. Toxoplasmosis, sometimes called “cat scratch disease” can be passed from mother to unborn child. The infection can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or an abnormally sized fetal head. In the child’s later life, it can lead to vision loss, mental impairment or seizures, the FDA said in a news release. While exposure to cats and used cat litter are primary methods of transmission, toxoplasmosis also can be transmitted by other animals and birds. And the parasite can be acquired by eating raw or undercooked meat. Typical warning signs among people include swollen lymph nodes and flu-like symptoms, the FDA said. The test is produced by bioMerieux Inc., based in Hazelwood, Mo.

Colorado 05/19/11 by Janet Huntington – Elbert resident Nikki Clark wasn’t thinking about Hantaviruswhen she cleaned out her tack room. It was simple spring cleaning at the Clark residence. When she first began to feel ill on April 17, Clark assumed she had the flu. She was still able to work, but within three days she had developed pneumonia-like symptoms and was home in bed. Another three days passed and she was admitted to the hospital. Four days later her blood work showed she had Hantavirus and Clark and her husband, realtor Pete Clark, learned her life was in danger. “This disease attacks your lungs and heart. It is imperative that you get oxygen into your system…The statistics are, of the people entering the hospital for this virus, 50% don’t make it,” Clark said in a written statement. “My recovery has been very slow, but I see

Deer mouse

an improvement every day. Because of the low recovery rate, the doctors don’t know too much about normal recovery time,” she added.

Maine 05/18/11 A 70-year-old Somerset County man who has the dubious distinction of becoming Maine’s first-ever case of Hantavirus has survived thanks to a quick medical response, according to an article written by Meg Haskell and published in the Bangor Daily News.  Dr. Stephen Sears, Maine’s state epidemiologist, said the man was treated in the intensive care unit of a local hospital and is now recovering in a rehab facility.  Dr. Sears said state inspectors found the man’s home was contaminated with mice.  Hantavirus is associated with deer mice and other rodents.

Mississippi 05/17/11 by Mary Perez – Biloxi – Coyotes are killing pets and scaring residents throughout the city and Councilman Tom Wall said Tuesday the city has to find some way to deal with them before a child is mutilated or killed. “It seems to be a growing problem,” said Paul Mallery, one of a half-dozen residents who came to Tuesday’s Council meeting with their concerns.  “I’ve seen them in the street,” Mallery said.  One neighbor saw a coyote at the back door and he said a friend in the Woolmarket area watched a coyote grab his dog and carry it into the woods. Mallery said the city also has red foxes, which carry disease. “It’s like we’re under siege,” he said. Biloxi Police Lt. Harold Windom said he doesn’t know how to get rid of coyotes. Experts with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries told the police three effective methods are traps, poison and snares.  But Windom said these solutions, or shooting the animals, can’t safely be used in a city near so many children and pets. Windom said he would continue to look for some way to get the coyotes out of city neighborhoods.

New Hampshire 05/20/11 by Sarah Clough – There will be a Lyme disease awareness evening Monday, May 23, at 6:30 in the Merrimack High School Little Theater. “Under Our Skin” will be shown, followed by a Q-and-A session with David Hunter, facilitator of the Greater Manchester Lyme Disease Support Group. Admission is free. For more information, e-mail

New Jersey 05/19/11 The Salem County Health Department has confirmed the first case of rabies in the county for the year. A stray cat attacked a Pilesgrove woman here on May 15 at her home while she was taking out her recyclables. The cat bit the woman’s leg and latched on until the woman kicked the cat off, officials said in a press release on Wednesday. The cat hid until Ned Shimp, animal control officer, came to retrieve it. Shimp euthanized the cat and sent it to the state for testing, according to the release. The state confirmed that the stray cat was positive for rabies. The woman immediately went to South Jersey Healthcare-Elmer Hospital for post-exposure rabies treatment. For more information, please contact the Salem County Health Department at (856) 935-7510, ext. 8484 or visit .

New Jersey 05/19/11 River Vale – On Wednesday, May 25, “ABC’s of Lyme Disease and Other Tick Borne Illnesses” will be presented at the River Vale Community/Senior Center. The free program, which will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m., will be presented by Kim Uffleman, a former board member of the Lyme Disease Association of New Jersey. For more information visit or call the health department at 201-664-2346.

Texas 05/18/11 A skunk found a week ago in the backyard of a home on Regina Drive in Hewitt has tested positive for rabies, police said Wednesday. Hewitt police and Woodway animal control officers were attempting Wednesday to contact residents whose pets might have come into contact with the skunk. The effort is primarily focused on an area of Hewitt that includes the 600 block of Regina Drive and the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Dendron Drive.

Virginia 05/18/11 by Tracy Agnew – A dog bitten by a fox in the Person Street area of Suffolk last week had to be euthanized after the fox tested positive for rabies, according to the Suffolk Health Department. The dog had not been vaccinated for rabies. The owner, who was also bitten, has started a course of treatment to prevent rabies. The incident happened in the same area as a series of events May 6-7 in which a rabid fox attacked two children and a dog before being killed by the dog.

Travel Warnings:

Dominica 05/19/11 The Government of Dominica has warned about an outbreak of Leptospirosis which has claimed the lives of the Director Agriculture on the island and another man, according to the Caribbean Media Corporation. CMC said that the director Richard Allport, died from the disease this week. The disease is most often transmitted in floodwater through contact with rat urine. Guyana had a serious outbreak of this disease in 2005 during the Great Flood. “The Ministry of Health in Dominica wishes to inform the general public that the outbreak of Leptospirosis announced by the Ministry last year has not yet subsided,” a Dominica Government statement said, according to CMC.


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