Category Archives: Bacteria

The Real Question is: How did Bacteria Escape a Primate Research Center?

Burkholderia pseudomallei can cause a deadly disease called Melioidosis. Before you get nervous you should consider how unlikely a public health crisis is. A Louisiana based national primate research lab recently discovered at least four monkeys infected with the bacteria. Test monkeys being infected might seem like a usual occurrence at a research center that performs animal testing but in this story, the rhesus macaques who tested positive for Burkholderia were not intentionally infected. In fact, to date, no one knows how the bacteria spread.

In the modern 24 hour news cycle it can be difficult to recognize the meat of breaking news through the garnish of sensationalized headlines. This bacteria leak calls into question security measures at Tulane National Primate Research Center, the hidden and open dangers of biological weapons development and the efficacy of various government agencies. The UPMC Center for Health Security, a private bio-weapons contractor, estimates that while it is possible for the bacteria to be weaponized, it isn’t the deadliest or most effective contagion. So the issue here isn’t some weird conspiracy. In fact, even if this bacteria spreads to the wild and infects parts of LA state, it’s unlikely to cause a scare or epidemic.

Burkholderia pseudomallei, is commonly found in Southeast Asia and northern Australia so it can live & spread  in the wild pretty easily. It can even infect animals and plant life. It can gain a tenacious hold on an outdoor environment given the correct conditions.  ON the other hand, the bacteria is contagious only if it enters an organism through cuts on the skin, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In the first world, it doesn’t seem like it would be much of a problem. So how bad is it to come down with Melioidosis? fever, headache, loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain. A deadly level of illness from the bacteria is rare but the fatality rate is up to 50 percent in countries where the bacteria is allowed to thrive and adapt in the wild. So, if this disease takes root in America, it could adapt to a strain that can’t be as easily dealt with or contained.

When the supposedly “high-security laboratory” called the Tulane National Primate Research Center in Louisiana reported “at least five” rhesus macaques were infected, Spokesman Michael Strecker also revealed the timeline for incubation.  The estimate the date of infection being sometime back in November of 2014. A security breech or protocol violation occurred last Fall but there is no hard proof or record to explain exactly which mistakes happened.

Tulane National is being very careful now that the leak has been discovered and publicized. The 50+ soil and water samples from the 500-acres surrounding the research buildings tested negative for the bacteria. Dr. Andrew A. Lackner, director of the Primate Research Center said, “The only connection among these four animals was their presence in the veterinary hospital during the same period of time.”

“Tulane continues to work with the CDC, USDA and the EPA, as well as state and local officials on this matter.”, Lackner also stated. Unfortunately, the research center’s security was called into further question when a CDC federal investigator came up positive for burkholderia. Jason McDonald, a CDC spokesman, told ABC News there were no clear answers as to how the investigator was infected, but David Strecker insists it couldn’t have been at the center itself because of the thorough clean up effort the facility had already gone through before the investigator fell victim. “The veterinary hospital has been thoroughly disinfected, and additional animal testing is ongoing,” Director Lackner agreed.

Tulane has suspended all further research until a thorough investigation answers pressing questions. The infected monkeys were euthanized.

It seems there isn’t much left to discuss aside from… how the %^&* did this leak actually happen?

Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY

What do the bacteria living in your gut have to do with your immune system?

By Elizabeth Bent, University of Guelph

Your intestines are home to many different kinds of bacteria (and some non-bacterial organisms as well). Together they’re called the “gut microbiome.” They come from the food you eat – and whatever else gets into your mouth. Bacteria start colonizing your gut at birth.

Your gut microbiome aids in digestion and produces vitamins and other compounds that affect your health. It seems to play a role in many other health-related functions, including metabolism, cardiac health and mood.

New evidence shows that the bacteria in our gut also interact with our immune systems, and might even influence the body’s immune reaction to vaccines.

How can bacteria in your gut interact with your immune system?

We are still learning how gut bacteria and the immune system interact. Research suggests that the interaction evolved over time to manage the balance between reacting to harmful pathogens and tolerating non-harmful organisms. You want your immune system to react to the pathogens that can make you sick, while letting the beneficial bacteria living in your gut go about their business.

We are still learning what a healthy gut microbiome looks like. Evidence suggests that a balanced and diverse microbiome might contribute to better health overall, and a less diverse or less balanced microbiome can have a negative impact on health.

A review article from 2014 suggests that the overuse of antibiotics, changes in diets and the elimination of beneficial organisms that work with bacteria (like nematodes, a kind of worm) in high income countries may have resulted in gut microbiomes that lack the resilience and diversity of functions required to establish balanced immune responses. Why does that matter?

Having less diverse gut bacteria has been linked to inflammatory bowel diseases and the increase in autoimmune diseases in developed countries.

For instance, a 2013 study found that children living in Bangladesh have more diverse gut microbiomes than children from the United States. Researchers suggest that dietary differences – with children in the US eating more animal fats and protein – are a factor.

What do gut bacteria have to do with vaccines?
Image Point Fr/Shutterstock

How do vaccines work?

Let’s start at the beginning. Vaccines work by introducing dead or weakened viruses or bacteria or pieces of them (called pathogens) to your body. Your immune system finds them and generates protective antibodies and other responses to that pathogen. Because they are dead or weakened, vaccines cannot cause disease symptoms in the majority of people.

This means that your body will have the antibodies to fight the pathogen and will be ready to mount a quick immune response if it’s ever encountered again. So if you are exposed to the pathogen – the kind that can cause real symptoms – your body already knows how to fight it. You don’t need to develop immunity by actually catching that disease and suffering its real, and sometimes dangerous or deadly, symptoms. You can go your entire life without ever suffering the symptoms of that disease. This is why the word “vaccine” has become synonymous with protection.

Unhealthy gut bacteria can make vaccines less effective

Scientists have started examining the interactions between gut bacteria and responses to vaccines. A recent review article concluded that the composition of your gut microbiome can influence whether a vaccine has an effect in your body.

Unhealthy gut microbiome composition (or “dysbiosis”) can lead to inflammation. And that means more bacterial cells pass through the damaged lining of the gut, which stimulates further immune system responses. This is called “leaky gut.” Vaccines may not be as effective because the immune system is already busy dealing with these bacterial cells “leaking” through the gut.

On the other hand, having a diverse and “healthy” gut microbiome, and thus no gut inflammation and “leakiness,” might allow a person’s immune system to focus on responding to the vaccine effectively.

Recent research has also found that the effectiveness of the seasonal flu shot could be enhanced by intestinal bacteria. The immune system detects specific proteins from the bacteria, and this detection seems to increase the immune system’s response to the flu vaccine. Then your body has an easier time mounting an immune response if you are exposed to the real flu virus.

What you eat can influence your gut microbiome.
Eric Cote/Shutterstock

Gut bacteria aren’t the only thing influencing your immune system

Could an unhealthy gut microbiome be the culprit in the rare cases when a person has an unexpected immune reaction to a vaccine, such as an anaphylactic reaction? We don’t know for certain yet, but it is a possibility.

Science is nowhere near being able to tell you which bacteria will always cause what immune system responses. And keep in mind that your gut bacteria are by no means the only factor affecting your immune system. Nutrition, age, sex, genetics and the kinds of pathogens you’ve been exposed to can all have an effect.

We don’t yet know exactly what a health-beneficial gut microbiome may look like, though recent research points to the fact that the specific biochemical functions that different bacteria can carry out are more important than the species present in your gut.

Keeping your microbiome in good shape

As far we know the best way to establish and maintain a healthy gut microbiome is to get enough sleep and exercise, eat healthy meals that include lots of fruits and vegetables, avoid chronic and excessive stress and not to drink too much. You can also help maintain healthy gut bacteria by taking antibiotics only when they are necessary. Remember, antibiotics don’t help if you have a virus, such as colds or the flu.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.