The opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics 2016 will be held this Friday, marking the onset of two weeks of competition between the world’s best athletes. The world has been focused on Brazil and its preparedness – not only for the infrastructure required for the games, but also for any potential health crises that global travel may incur. Infectious disease topics such as Zika have spurred the CDC to advise pregnant women and women planning on becoming pregnant against traveling to the games, although there are no travel restrictions. Here's a round-up of other research resources on Olympic-related microbiology news stories.
The host country for the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil, has been the epicenter of Zika research, since this is where the disease was first linked to one of its major pathologies, fetal microencephaly. Genomic studies of Zika isolates, including the first sequenced autochthonous transmission isolate, have showed scientists that the African strain has sequence difference from the Asian strain circulating in French Polynesia and the Americas. Genetic differences are one potential reason to explain higher rates of microcephaly in Brazil than in Africa, where the Zika virus originated; another reason may be coinfection, as was recently discovered in a Brazilian patient coinfected with Zika virus and chikungunya virus. This is one area of heavy study among scientists.
Researchers have also been rushing to understand the mechanism of Zika pathogenesis, which might provide antiviral targets or other therapeutic insights. This includes identifying cells that allow Zika to enter and replicate more virions, as skin immune cells including dermal fibroblasts, epidermal keratinocytes, and immature dendritic cells were all found to do. Other research has focused on identifying monoclonal antibodies, first isolated from dengue fever patients, that protected mice against Zika infection. This protection results from cross-reaction between similar structures on these flaviviruses; with luck, studies such as these will lead not only to better protection from Zika, but also from dengue, a scourge that annually results in 25,000 deaths worldwide.
Studies like these arise from basic research programs, which require funding even without the threat of emerging infectious diseases, so we can be prepared when they do appear. This was the consensus from a panel of experts who convened in late May at an ASM press conference on Zika. One of these experts, Michael Diamond, spoke in more detail at a recent public “Microbes After Hours” lecture, discussing his and other labs’ recent results on Zika transmission, pathogenesis, and therapies. Unfortuantely, the disease has emerged in a country where a downward economic turn has badly affected scientific research. The obstruction of Brazilian basic science programs will have global implications in an increasing interactive world.
Identification of drug-resistant pathogens
The waterways of Brazil are another source of infectious disease-related concern, as multidrug-resistant bacteria have been found in the waters where Olympic events will be held. These aren’t true ‘superbugs,’ which is the term used to describe bacteria resistant to all antibiotics, but the Enterobacteriaceae found did harbor a number of carbapenemase genes, conferring resistance to penicillins, cephalosporins, monobactams, and carbapenems in various combinations. After the initial report sensationalizing the ‘superbug’ finding, news organizations dispelled the notion that there would be a plague of drug-resistant infections, stating few if any people are likely to become ill with these drug-resistant bacteria. However, high levels of sewage contamination have increased total viral and bacterial numbers many fold, with fecal bacterial numbers up to 50 times higher than would be allowed in the U.S.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be updating mBiosphere with new reports regarding Zika and drug-resistant pathogens in Brazil, so stay tuned, mBiosphere readers! And if you’re traveling to see the Games in person, have fun and stay safe!
Update 8/8/16: The first discovery of mcr-1 in a Brazilian patient E. coli isolate was reported in AACJournal. The authors said that the patient had no history of travel abroad, suggesting the isolate was already in Brazil.
-- Julie Wolf