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For The Record  

FTR #585 Update on Biological Warfare and Lyme Disease

Recorded February 11, 2007
MP3 Side 1 | Side 2

Introduction: Continuing the inquiry undertaken in FTR 480, this program explores the relationship between Lyme disease and biological warfare research. After reviewing American employment of Nazi biological warfare chief Erich Traub in the aftermath of World War II, the broadcast notes that Traub may well have experimented with disease-infected ticks on Plum Island. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Lyme disease may have stemmed (accidentally or deliberately) from biological warfare research experiments on Plum Island. At every turn, Lyme disease research is inextricably linked with biological warfare research. Divided into the “Steere” and “ILADS” camps, the Lyme disease research community is split between the view that the disease is “hard-to-catch, easy-to-cure” and the diametrically opposed view that the disease is very serious and produces long-term neurological disorder. The Steere camp diminishes the significance of the disease and is closely identified with biological warfare research. At the epicenter of Lyme disease research (and the Steere camp) are members of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, or EIS. EIS personnel are to be found at every bend in the road of Lyme disease research.

Program Highlights Include: The discovery by Willy Burgdorfer of the microbe that causes Lyme disease; Burgdorfer’s work as a biological warfare (BW) researcher; Burgdorfer’s work on Lyme disease conducted in concert with BW researchers Jorge Benach and Alan Barbour; the appointment of BW researchers Edward McSweegan and Mark Klempner to head up official research into Lyme disease; the “accidental” classification of Lyme disease as a potential biological warfare weapon by both the NIH and the CDC; the Pentagon’s use of a real-time satellite system that enables troops in the field to assess the threat of Lyme-infected ticks in their area; the fact that Lyme disease sheds its outer coat in such a way as to be resistant to antibiotics; the difficulty in diagnosing Lyme disease; the designation of Lyme disease as a “sentinel” ailment to aid in the detection of biological warfare agents.

1. Side “A” of the broadcast consists of review of information from FTR 480. Highlighting an aspect of Project Paperclip (the importation of Nazi scientists to work for the U.S. after World War II), the program details the work of Erich Traub. In charge of bacteriological and virological warfare research for the Third Reich, he went to work for the U.S. after the conflict. Circumstantial evidence suggests he may have conducted biological warfare research on tick-borne diseases on, among other places, Plum Island, off the coast of Long Island. FTR 480 presents information suggesting that the spread of Lyme disease in this country may have originated from Plum Island BW tests.

2. The second half of the program sets forth a thought-provoking paper about the ubiquitous presence of biological warfare specialists in the Lyme disease research community. By the same token, the history of Lyme disease research is associated with biological warfare research at virtually every turn. Lyme research is controlled by the Steere Camp, whose members are inextricably linked to the biological warfare research community in this country. The opposing camp-the ILADS—contends that Lyme disease is a serious ailment that produces prolonged neurological symptoms. The Steere Camp maintains that Lyme is “hard-to-catch, easy-to-cure.” “The world of Lyme disease medicine is split into two camps – the US government-backed ‘Steere camp’, which maintains the disease is hard-to-catch, easily cured, and rarely causes chronic neurological damage, and the ‘ILADS camp’, which maintains the opposite. The Steere camp is intricately bound up with the American biowarfare establishment, as well as with giant insurance and other corporate interests with a stake in the issue. The ILADS doctors lack such connections, but are supported instead by tens of thousands of patients rallying behind them. Because the Steere camp has been massively funded and promoted by federal agencies, its view has dominated Lyme medicine not just in the US, but across much of the world. The result has been suffering on a grand scale. Below is a concise history of the military aspects of this cover-up.”
(“History of Lyme disease as a Bioweapon: Lyme is a Biowarfare Issue” by Elena Cook.)

3. The Borrelia genus has long been researched as a biological warfare vector. Note that Unit 731 personnel and their files were put to work for the United States after World War II, much like the Project Paperclip scientists from Germany. “ . . . The Borrelia genus of bacteria, which encompasses the Borrelia burgdorferi species-group (to which Lyme disease is attributed), was studied by the infamous WW2 Japanese biowar Unit 731, who carried out horrific experiments on prisoners in Manchuria, including dissection of live human beings. [iii] Unit 731 also worked on a number of other tick-borne pathogens. After the war, the butchers of Unit 731 were shielded from prosecution by the US authorities, who wanted their expertise for the Cold War. [iv] The US government also protected and recruited German Nazi bioweaponeers under the aegis of the top-secret Operation Paperclip. . . .” (Idem.)

4. The extraordinary mutability of borrelia bacteria makes that genus especially well-suited for biological warfare purposes. “ . . . borrelia were known for their ability to adopt different forms under conditions of stress (such as exposure to antibiotics). Shedding their outer wall, (which is the target of penicillin and related drugs), they could ward off attack and continue to exist in the body. Lyme disease is not usually fatal, and it is sometimes argued that, with rapidly lethal agents like smallpox and plague available, an army would have no interest in it. However, what is important to understand here is that incapacitating or ‘non-lethal’ bioweapons are a major part of biowarfare R&D [vi], and have been for decades. . . . Military strategists understand that disabling an enemy’s soldiers can sometimes cause more damage than killing them, as large amount of resources are then tied up in caring for the casualties. An efficient incapacitating weapon dispersed over a civilian population could destroy a country’s economy and infrastructure without firing a shot. People would either be too sick to work, or too busy looking after those who were.” (Idem.)

5. Research into Lyme disease has been dominated by personnel from the Epidemic Intelligence Service, whose members are the premier biological warfare experts in the country. The EIS personnel make up the Steere Camp. EIS personnel administered Lyme disease research from the beginning: “ . . . When Polly Murray made her now-famous call to the Connecticut health department to report the strange epidemic among children and adults in her town, her initial reception was lukewarm. However, some weeks later, she got an unexpected call from a Dr David Snydman, of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), who was very interested. He arranged for fellow EIS officer Dr Allen Steere to get involved. By the time Mrs. Murray turned up for her appointment at Yale, the doctor she had expected to see had been relegated to the role of an onlooker. Allen Steere had taken charge – and his views were to shape the course of Lyme medicine for the next thirty years, up till today. [x]” (Idem.)

6. More about the EIS and its importance to the international biological warfare research community: “The EIS is an elite, quasi-military unit of Infectious Disease experts set up in the 1950’s to develop an offensive biowarfare capability. Despite the banning of offensive biowar in the 1970’s, the crack troops of the EIS continue to exist, ostensibly for non-offensive research into ‘emerging disease’ threats, a blanket phrase covering both bioweapon attacks and natural epidemics at the same time. Graduates of the EIS training program are sent in to occupy strategic positions in the US health infrastructure, taking leadership at federal and state health agencies, in academia, industry and the media. The organization also extends its influence abroad, training officers for public health agencies in Britain, France, the Netherlands etc. [xi] [xii]” (Idem.)

7. “In fact a high proportion of Steere camp Lyme experts are involved with the EIS. Given that the EIS is a small, elite force, (in 2001 the CDC revealed there were less than 2500 EIS officers in existence since the unit was first created in 1951 [xiii]), it seems incredible that so many of America’s top Infectious Disease experts would devote their careers to what they themselves claim is a ‘hard-to-catch, easily-cured’ disease. . . .” (Idem.)

8. The discoverer of the micro-organism that causes Lyme was a biological warfare expert—Willy Burgdorfer. Two of the people with whom Burgdorfer worked in the early phases of Lyme research (Jorge Benach and Alan Barbour) were also BW [biological warfare] specialists. “ . . . The microbe was accidentally found by biowarfare scientist Willy Burgdorfer and was subsequently named for him. [Emphasis added.] Burgdorfer has championed the Lyme patients’ movement and is not suspected of any wrongdoing. However it is not impossible that he was unwittingly caught up in a chain of events that were not as random as they might have seemed. [Burgdorfer was a Swiss scientist who had been recruited by the US Public Health Service in the 1950’s. He was highly experienced with both ticks and borrelia, but after being told that the government was not interested in funding work with the latter, he switched to work with Rickettsia and other pathogens. [xiv] In 1981, Burgdorfer was sent a batch of deer ticks by a team studying Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever on the East Coast. In charge of the team was one Dr Jorge Benach. [xv] Benach subsequently spent much of his career as a Steere camp Lyme researcher. In 2004 he was chosen as recipient for a $3 million biowarfare research grant. [xvi] [Emphasis added.] Cutting open some of Benach’ ticks, Burgdorfer noticed microfilaria (microscopic worm young). This was a subject he had been studying recently, only these microfilaria were different. They were exceptionally large, large enough to be seen with the naked eye.[xvii] His curiosity naturally piqued, he opened up several more ticks. There he was surprised to find the spiral-shaped germs of borrelia. Cultivation is necessary in order to isolate bacteria for study, so that diagnostic tests, vaccines or cures can be developed. Borrelia are very difficult to grow in culture. However, by ‘lucky coincidence’, another scientist had recently joined the lab where he worked, and had apparently been involved in an amazing breakthrough in this area. So naturally Burgdorfer handed the infected ticks over to him. [xviii] That scientist was Dr. Alan Barbour, an officer, like Steere and Snydman, of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, with a background in work on anthrax, one of the most terrifying biowarfare agents known. [xix] [Emphasis added.]” (Idem.)

9. Setting the template for future Lyme research, EIS researcher Alan Barbour’s work on borrelia determined the nature of subsequent Lyjme disease testing. Barbour has gone on to the top position in a biological warfare research facility at the University of California at Irvine, where he is working with another “Steerite,” Jonas Bunikis. “. . . EIS man Barbour therefore became the first to isolate the prototype organism on which all subsequent Lyme disease blood tests would be based. [xx] This is very significant, as a huge body of evidence [xxi] indicates the unreliability of these tests, which are routinely used to rule out the disease. Additionally, all DNA detection of the Lyme agent in ticks and animals is ultimately based, directly or indirectly, on the genetic profile of the strain first isolated by Barbour. Shortly after Barbour’s discovery, other species and strains of the Lyme-causing bacteria were isolated, especially in Europe. They were all classified based on their resemblance to Barbour’s organism, and have been grouped into a category called Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato or ‘Bbsl’ for short. . . . In 2005 Barbour, who spent much of his career studying the ‘hard-to-catch, easy-to-cure’ Lyme disease, was placed in charge of the multi-million new biowarfare mega-complex based at University of California at Irvine (UCI). [xxiv] Barbour is joined there by his close colleague and fellow Steerite Jonas Bunikis, author of recent papers calling for a restrictive approach to Lyme diagnosis. [Emphasis added.]” (Idem.)

10. Edward McSweegan and Mark Klempner are two of the other BW experts to enter the Lyme disease research field. “ . . . The National Institute of Health (NIH) appointed biowarfare expert Edward McSweegan as Lyme Program officer. [xxv] [Emphasis added.] Under his leadership the diagnostic criteria was skewed to exclude most sufferers, especially those with chronic neurological illness. McSweegan’s successor at NIH, Dr Phil Baker, is an anthrax expert [xxvi], and has continued his policies. . . . In 2001, responding to the protest of thousands of patients that standard two or three-week antibiotic courses were not sufficient, the NIH commissioned biowarfare scientist Mark Klempner to study persistence of Lyme infection. [Emphasis added.] ILADS doctors had found that patients left untreated in the early phase often needed long courses of antibiotics, [xxix] sometimes for years. Klempner, however, concluded that persistent Lyme infection did not exist. In 2003 Klempner was appointed head of the new $1.6 billion biowarfare top-security facility being developed at Boston University. Shortly after, the news emerged that there had been an escape of the deadly bug tularemia, which was not properly reported to the authorities. [xxx] . . .” (Idem.)

11. Both the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control “accidentally” listed Lyme as a potential bioterrorism vector. “In 2005 the author discovered a document on the NIH website listing Lyme as one of the potential bioterrorism agents studied in BSL-4 (top security) labs. After this was publicized, the NIH announced they had made a ‘mistake’, and removed the words ‘Lyme disease’ from the page. (At the time of writing, the original is still available in cached Internet archives. [xxxi]) However, at around the same time, a CDC source leaked the identical information to the Associated Press. [xxxii] Moreover, the Science Coalition, comprising entities as prestigious as the American Medical Association, Yale University, and the American Red Cross, maintain a website which, at the time of writing, also lists Lyme as a disease studied for its biowarfare potential. [xxxiii] Could these three major organizations all have, co-incidentally, made the same ‘mistake’? . . .” (Idem.)

12. Supplementing information in paragraph 4, the program notes that the Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose, another factor that makes it ideal for BW use. “ . . . Lyme’s ability to evade detection on routine medical tests, its myriad presentations which can baffle doctors by mimicking 100 different diseases, its amazing abilities to evade the immune system and antibiotic treatment, would make it an attractive choice to bioweaponeers looking for an incapacitating agent. Lyme’s abilities as ‘the great imitator’ might mean that an attack could be misinterpreted as simply a rise in the incidence of different, naturally-occurring diseases such as autism, MS, lupus and chronic fatigue syndrome (M.E.). Borrelia’s inherent ability to swap outer surface proteins, which may also vary widely from strain to strain, would make the production of an effective vaccine extremely difficult. (A vaccine developed for the public by the Steere camp in collaboration with Glaxo Smithkline was pulled from the market a few years ago amid class action lawsuits [xxxvi].) Finally, the delay before the appearance of the most incapacitating symptoms would allow plenty of time for an attacker to move away from the scene, as well as preventing people in a contaminated zone from realizing they had been infected and seeking treatment. Often in the early period there is no rash, only vague flu-like or other non-specific symptoms which might be dismissed by GP’s, or ignored by the patient. . . .” (Idem.)

13. Lyme disease has been proposed as a “sentinel” germ for biological warfare detection. A Department of Defense satellite system gives soldiers real-time data on the presence of Lyme-infected ticks in their vicinity. “ . . . The 2003 proposal for a rapid-detection method for biowarfare by Dr JJ Dunn of Brookhaven National Lab seems to add further grounds for suspicion. It is based on the use of two ‘sentinel’ germs – plague and Lyme. [xxxvii] In 1999 Lyme patient advocacy leader Pat Smith was amazed to find, on visiting an Army base at an old biowar testing ground in Maryland, that the US Dept. of Defense has developed a satellite-linked system that enables soldiers to read, in real-time, off a display on their helmet’s visor, information about the rate of Lyme-infected ticks wherever they may be on earth. Unit commanders could update the database using state-of-the-art portable PCR machines, which test for Lyme DNA in soldiers bitten by ticks. [xxxviii] The use of such cutting-edge technology for a supposedly ‘hard-to-catch, easy-to-cure’ illness seems odd, to say the least! . . .”(Idem.)

14. The conclusion to the essay encapsulates its working hypothesis: “ . . . It’s possible to see the modern history of Lyme as a string of events with an EIS member at every crucial node. . . .” (Idem.)


15 comments for “FTR #585 Update on Biological Warfare and Lyme Disease”

  1. Where ,and why cant i get a old,
    new photo of “erick traub”

    Posted by Dave H | October 5, 2010, 6:51 pm
  2. Just FYI, if you’re going to be working anywhere near Plum Island’s new replacement facility in the heart of cattle country you might want to become a germaphobe:

    The New York Times

    Breeding Bacteria on Factory Farms
    July 9, 2013, 7:58 pm

    The story of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in farm animals is not a simple one. But here’s the pitch version: Yet another study has reinforced the idea that keeping animals in confinement and feeding them antibiotics prophylactically breeds varieties of bacteria that cause disease in humans, disease that may not readily be treated by antibiotics. Since some of these bacteria can be fatal, that’s a scary combination.

    Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are bad enough, but now there are more kinds; they’re better at warding off attack by antibiotics; and they can be transferred to humans by increasingly varied methods. The situation is demonstrably dire.

    Two of the examples highlighted in a Food and Drug Administration report are that about 10 percent of all chicken breasts sold at retail are contaminated with a form of salmonella that’s resistant to at least one antibiotic, and nearly half of all chicken that’s sold is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant campylobacter. Some of the antibiotics in question are used to treat sick people but are also used daily in raising livestock. And it seems that these livestock, especially ones raised by contemporary industrial means, are a breeding ground for making these and other bacteria more resistant [1] .

    Some of this resistance comes from overuse in humans, but there’s increasing evidence that resistance is being bred in animals that are a) raised in confinement and b) given antibiotics routinely. We want to know, of course, whether these bacteria move from animals to humans. Of particular concern is one called MRSA ST398, or “livestock-associated MRSA.” MRSA [2] is shorthand for Methicillin (a type of antibiotic)-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

    MRSA is serious [3] . Maryn McKenna [4] , a journalist who specializes in these matters and the author of “Superbug,” says that “MRSA is an underappreciated epidemic in the U.S. — over all, that organism causes more than 18,000 deaths and more than 365,000 hospitalizations a year — although we don’t know how much of that epidemic ‘livestock-associated MRSA’ is responsible for.”

    The latest study concerning antibiotic resistance was published last week in the journal PLoS One. It looked at livestock workers in North Carolina (the nation’s second biggest hog-producing state, after Iowa), including those in what the study’s authors called “industrial” livestock production and those on farms where the animals were raised without antibiotics and grown on pasture. In this study, the S. aureus bacteria with genetic markers most closely linked to livestock were found in far greater numbers in workers on the industrial farms.

    In fact, says Christopher Heaney, corresponding author of the study and assistant professor of environmental health sciences and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “This study shows that these livestock-associated strains are present among workers at industrial livestock operations and that these strains are resistant not just to methicillin, but to multiple antibiotics — including antibiotics that are used to treat human infections.”

    Because the study looked at workers and not animals on the same farms, there are gaps to fill in, as Heaney freely admits. “But everyone in our study had direct or indirect contact with livestock,” he says, “and one might expect to find similar prevalence of an opportunistic pathogen like S. aureus that is linked with livestock in both groups.

    “But we didn’t see that: we saw both a higher prevalence of drug resistance — for tetracycline and multidrug resistance — in the industrial compared to the antibiotic-free group and, in the industrial group only, we saw drug-resistant strains with multiple genetic characteristics linked to livestock.

    “That’s remarkable; we never expected to see something so clear at the outset of the study.”

    A reasonable person could assume that these drug-resistant staph bacteria are coming from animals, since you generally don’t find them in the non-livestock-working population in the United States.

    This is another dot in a sketch that’s becoming clearer. There’s evidence of MRSA moving from pigs to humans in Iowa — where pioneering research has been done by Tara Smith at the University of Iowa — and in Europe, where Jan Kluytmans, an epidemiologist at VU University Medical Center Amsterdam, has found that “approximately 40 percent of all new persons with MRSA carry the livestock-associated strain, and most are related to contact with animals. Our data on MRSA are convincing that livestock is now a huge reservoir of MRSA for humans.”

    The F.D.A., which is under court order to do something about the routine use of antibiotics, has come up with a lame voluntary reduction scheme — “Guidance 213,” it’s called — acting as if it will save its real regulatory muscle for after this scheme flops. (Which it will — flop, that is.) Worse, despite repeated promises that the voluntary guidelines were imminent, they haven’t issued even those. And now, “Guidance 213 is currently in the clearance process, but we cannot predict a timeline on its release,” an agency spokeswoman wrote me in an e-mail. Period.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 9, 2013, 7:59 pm
  3. Anyone want to buy an island? It’s got a rare ecosystem. And if that doesn’t float your boat it’s also got a former biowarfare research facility. There’s something for everyone:

    No Good Reason To Sell Plum Island
    The Vanishing Rationale for Selling the Undeveloped Island
    July 05, 2013|Editorial, The Hartford Courant

    While plans to transfer the animal disease laboratory on Plum Island to Kansas are moving ahead, it’s less likely that selling the island will help pay for the new laboratory, as Congress had hoped when it passed a law in 2008 calling for the sale.

    Congress probably thought it could make a killing selling the 843-acre property located off the North Fork of Long Island, 10 miles from the Connecticut shoreline. But it now appears that much of the undeveloped portion of the island might have to be set aside for conservation purposes, diminishing the possibility of offsetting the cost of the new laboratory, now estimated at $1 billion.

    The governments of Connecticut and New York and environmental groups in both states have opposed new development on the island, a rich and rare wildlife habitat protected from human intrusion for years by the presence of the secretive animal disease research that takes place there.

    The General Services Administration, which is handling the sale, endorses the sale in its environmental impact statement. But the report states that large areas of the island might need to be conserved to protect the habitat and scores of wildlife species, some federally protected, that have found refuge from the heavily developed shorelines of Connecticut and Long Island.

    Protecting The Island

    However, the final environmental impact statement doesn’t deal with the tricky question of how such protection could occur. Nor does it wish to condition the sale on some legal method to protect the rare ecosystem that has developed over the 50 years that Plum Island has been sealed off from the public.

    The federal Fish & Wildlife Service, among others, has urged the GSA to establish such conditions ahead of the sale. The GSA has argued that it lacks the authority to set conditions for the sale and development of the island. Those conditions would have to be established and/or enforced after the sale by state and local land-use regulation and laws, the agency has insisted.

    Well, guess what? The town of Southold, N.Y., the municipality that would assume jurisdiction over the island if the federal government sold it, has already given a great deal of thought to this pending responsibility.

    The town fashioned a zoning plan for Plum Island that would divide the island into two land-use districts: One, in which the current laboratory and its 50 buildings are located, would be devoted to research and education; the other would be a conservation district off-limits to development.

    Don’t Sell It

    Had Congress not linked the transfer of the laboratory to the sale of Plum Island, the goals of the Southold plan could have been reached easily and reasonably.

    The town could be looking forward to recruiting a new employer, similar in quality to the federal laboratory with its 100 scientists.

    And the advocates that have been fighting against further development on eastern Long Island would save Plum Island from the upscale real estate juggernaut that has consumed much of the Connecticut and New York shorelines.

    In fact, there was already a suitor in the wings willing to take over the undeveloped portion and turn it into a refuge: the Fish & Wildlife Service.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 11, 2013, 2:37 pm
  4. I have no problem with the government encouraging a vegetarian diet, but I’m not sure this is the way to do it:

    Mother Jones
    USDA Ruffles Feathers With New Poultry Inspection Policy

    —By Tom Philpott
    | Wed Apr. 24, 2013 3:00 AM PDT

    The Obama administration is on the verge of dramatically scaling back the US Department of Agriculture’s oversight of the nation’s largest chicken and turkey slaughterhouses—while also allowing companies to speed up their kill lines.

    Currently, each factory-scale slaughterhouse has four USDA inspectors overseeing kill lines churning out up to 140 birds every minute. Under the USDA’s new plan, a single federal inspector would oversee lines killing as many as 175 birds per minute. That would mean there are three fewer inspectors for a production line running 25 percent faster. (The line rates at turkey slaughterhouses are, for obvious reasons, slower, but would also be sped up under the new rules).

    After the idea was floated last year, it was met by massive pushback from food safety and worker advocates, who argued that the combination of more speed and fewer inspectors would lead to dangerous conditions for both consumers and workers.

    Since then, the proposal has been caught in the federal rulemaking process. But on April 10, the administration released a prospective USDA budget indicating that the agency plans to implement the new rules by September 2014. And in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on April 16, Vilsack said the rules would be finalized “very soon,” declaring that the plan “will allow the poultry industry to continue to be profitable, and allow us [the USDA] to save some money as well.”

    Indeed, according to a 2012 statement, the department expects to save $90 million over three years by firing inspectors. Meanwhile, the USDA calculates that by increasing kill line speeds, the plan will save the poultry industry more than eight times as much, or $256.6 million each year. That windfall would accrue mainly to four large companies—Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride (now mostly owned by JBS), Purdue, and Sanderson. Together, they slaughter nearly 60 percent of the chicken consumed in the United States. (Another four companies, led by Butterball, slaughter 55 percent of turkeys.)

    The USDA insists that the new system will improve poultry product safety. In his recent testimony, Vilsack said his department expects the new system will prevent “somewhere between three and five thousand foodborne illnesses” per year. Interestingly, Vilsack’s numbers are less optimistic than other recent claims from department officials: Just a year ago, Alfred Almanza, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, wrote that the plan would “help prevent an estimated 5,200” from getting sick.

    The USDA is right that poultry product safety could stand improving. In an analysis of the Food and Drug Administration’s latest tests of retail meat, Environmental Working Group found that 81 percent of ground turkey and 39 percent of chicken wings, breasts, and thighs tested contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

    How would speeding up the kill line and removing all but one inspector improve this dreadful situation? Under current rules, multiple USDA inspectors monitor the kill line for “visible defects”—feces, bruises, blemishes, blood, and the like. But the department insists that’s time poorly spent, focusing on the outward cosmetic appearance of the carcasses—quality control issues that the USDA argues should be the slaughterhouse’s responsibility. Under the new rules, company employees would instead be in charge of visually inspecting the line and removing defective birds. To control pathogens, the poultry plants would be allowed to conduct “online reprocessing”—that is, dousing all the bird carcasses that pass through the line, “whether they are contaminated or not,” with water laced with chlorine and other antimicrobial chemicals. Beyond that, the lone USDA inspector would randomly select 20 to 80 birds per shift to test them for defects. That would represent a tiny fraction of the birds processed over the course of an eight-hour shift; in a single hour, a kill line operating at the new high speed would spit out more than 10,000 carcasses.

    Since the late ’90s, the USDA has been running a pilot program testing the rules at 20 slaughterhouses, and claims that the results have been sterling. But last year, Food & Water Watch used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain six months’ worth of recent inspection documents from participating slaughterhouses. The results, as I reported at the time, were alarming, and don’t suggest that the factories’ own employees are effectively inspecting the birds.

    Here’s Food & Water Watch:

    Company employees miss many defects in poultry carcasses. The inspection category that had the highest error rate was ‘Other Consumer Protection 4’ for dressing defects such as feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass. The average error rate for this category in the chicken slaughter facilities was 64 percent and 87 percent in turkey slaughter facilities. In one turkey slaughter facility, nearly 100 percent of samples found this category of defect.

    From March to August 2011, 90 percent of the defects found by the USDA inspectors involved “visible fecal contamination that was missed by company employees.” Yuck.

    You don’t have to resort to FOIA to question the USDA’s claim that the new system will cut down on illnesses from eating poultry: In its publicly available 2011 evaluation of the pilot program, the USDA found that finished birds at pilot facilities were more likely to test positive for salmonella. And 2 of the 20 pilot facilities—a Tyson factory in Clarksville, Arkansas, and a Golden Rod Broilers one in Cullman, Alabama—failed the USDA’s latest test for salmonella standards. According to Food & Water Watch, that 10 percent failure rate—granted, drawn from a small sample size—is higher than the industry’s overall rate.

    Mmmmmm….salmonella and feces. And chicken. The only thing that could this dish better is some delicious beef pink-slime. Better yet, how about a side of feces-laden pork:

    The Washington Post
    USDA pilot program fails to stop contaminated meat

    By Kimberly Kindy, Published: September 8

    A meat inspection program that the Agriculture Department plans to roll out in pork plants nationwide has repeatedly failed to stop the production of contaminated meat at American and foreign plants that have already adopted the approach, documents and interviews show.

    The program allows meat producers to increase the speed of processing lines by as much as 20 percent and cuts the number of USDA safety inspectors at each plant in half, replacing them with private inspectors employed by meat companies. The approach has been used for more than a decade by five American hog plants under a pilot program.

    But three of these plants were among the 10 worst offenders in the country for health and safety violations, with serious lapses that included failing to remove fecal matter from meat, according to a report this spring by the USDA inspector general. The plant with the worst record by far was one of the five in the pilot program.

    In these cases, the contaminated meat did not leave the plants because it was caught by government inspectors once it reached the end of the processing line. But federal officials consider this too late in the process and repeatedly cited the plants for serious safety failures.

    While the inspection procedures are still in the experimental stage, the USDA has allowed other countries to use a process deemed to be equivalent in plants producing red meat for export to the United States.

    Within the past two years, plants using the procedures in Canada and Australia have experienced a rash of problems, according to internal e-mails, letters and other documents.

    Last fall, for example, a Canadian beef-processing plant using the inspection system had to recall 8.8 million pounds of beef and beef products tainted with E. coli — about 2.5 million pounds of which went to the U.S. market. Canadian government safety inspectors said the faster line speeds were partly responsible for the contamination.

    And since the beginning of last year, 11 shipments of beef, mutton and goat meat from at least four Australian plants using the procedures were stopped at U.S. ports because of contamination, which included fecal matter and partly digested food, records show. (Both fecal matter and partly digested food may contain concentrated and complex strains of bacterium such as E. coli and listeria, which can be deadly.)

    Officials in the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) declined interview requests for this article. They also did not respond to written questions.

    USDA officials have told federal auditors that the agency plans to complete its evaluation of the pilot program by the spring and that it hopes after that to propose rules for expanding the inspection system nationwide.

    Dozens of chicken plants have also been enrolled in a similar pilot program. The USDA plans to finalize regulations this year, allowing the procedures to be used in all chicken and turkey plants.

    Elisabeth Hagen, the USDA’s undersecretary for food safety, has praised the new inspection procedures. One week before the USDA inspector general’s office issued the critical report this spring, Hagen told the Food Chemical News, a trade publication, that the pilot initiative has produced safety results the department is “comfortable [with] and confident in.”

    Others involved with federal inspection policies in pork plants are concerned.

    “There is a lot of controversy surrounding this program,” Patricia Buck, a member of the USDA’s National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection and co-founder of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention, said. “We should not be putting it out there, saying it is okay for other countries to use, when it has so many flaws and when contaminated meat is coming in.”

    Origins of the program

    The new meat inspection program dates to 1997, when the USDA announced it would allow five large hog plants to enroll in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-based Inspection Models Project, commonly referred to as HIMP. The plants would be able to accelerate their processing lines and use company employees, instead of some USDA inspectors, to check that the meat was safe.

    The kickoff of HIMP in the late 1990s was welcomed as a victory by the meat industry, which had pushed for decades for the changes. Meat companies anticipated they would increase profits by moving more carcasses through their slaughterhouses each day while reducing government oversight.

    The government, for its part, expected to save millions of dollars annually by reducing its inspection force, and projected that prices would fall for consumers.

    The USDA promised at the time to study the performance of the new inspection procedures adopted by the hog plants in the pilot program.

    But the agency never did so. The USDA inspector general reported this spring that, after 15 years, the department has yet to study whether the program was meeting its stated goals of improving both food safety and efficiency in plants.

    In response to the criticism, the USDA said it would complete a study by March and then hopes to make the case for extending the inspection system across the nation’s 608 swine plants.

    Auditors from the inspector general’s office found that three of the five plants in the pilot program had racked up scores of health and safety violations, many of them for problems that were never fixed. The report did not identify the five plants and said that, since no study had been done, it was difficult to determine if contamination and other deficiencies could be attributed directly to the inspection system.

    But the auditors pointed out that the safety records at the three most-troubled pilot plants were worse than those at hundreds of other U.S. swine plants that continued to operate under the traditional system, which features slower processing speeds and about double the number of government inspectors.

    In a separate report issued this month, the Government Accountability Office said it would be difficult to recommend that the experimental procedures be extended across the country based on the pilot program. The pilot program was too small to “provide reasonable assurance that any conclusions can apply more broadly to the universe of 608 hog plants in the United States,” the report found. Moreover, it said, the USDA had not collected comparable data from pilot plants and traditional plants needed to evaluate the procedures.

    In interviews, six USDA inspectors working in the pilot plants raised health concerns. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they believed their jobs would be in jeopardy otherwise.

    Several said company and government workers are yelled at, threatened and shunned if they try to slow down or stop the accelerated processing lines or complain too aggressively about inadequate safety checks. They also warned that the reduction in the ranks of government inspectors in the plants has compromised the safety of the meat.

    “We are no longer in charge of safety,” said an inspector with more than 15 years of experience. “That’s what the public needs to know.”

    Problems in foreign plants

    In recent years, several American trade partners have sought U.S. government permission to let their meat-processing plants use procedures similar to those in the HIMP pilot program.

    USDA auditors visited plants in Canada, Australia and New Zealand to perform “equivalency reviews” and determined there were “no substantial differences between” the alternative inspection system those three countries were using and the one used in the pork pilot project, records show. Auditors compared, among other things, how meat company inspectors were positioned along the processing lines.

    In 2006, the USDA allowed three beef-processing plants in Canada that wanted to export to the United States to use a system that closely resembled the one used in the American pilot plants.k

    While there were occasional cases of contaminated meat being rejected at the U.S. border, no serious problems surfaced until September 2012, when both Canadian and USDA officials found E. coli in thousands of pounds of beef that were traced back to one of the three processing plants, which was owned by XL Foods Inc. (The plant is now owned by a subsidiary of JBS USA, the largest beef producer in North America. JBS did not return calls or respond to e-mails seeking comment.)

    That contaminated beef was destroyed. But more than 12,000 head of cattle had been slaughtered during the period when the meat was contaminated, and not all the tainted meat was caught before it reached consumers.

    An omen in Australia

    Australian plants using the alternative inspection procedures began exporting to the United States with USDA permission in 2008.

    Then, in the first part of last year, the USDA itself began raising red flags about Australian meat after “multiple” shipments of contaminated meat showed up at port-of-entry inspections and were rejected by U.S. officials, according to correspondence from Ronald K. Jones, assistant administrator of the USDA’s Office of International Affairs.

    In an initial letter, the USDA asked Australian food-safety officials to provide a detailed plan to improve inspections in the plants, which the Australian officials did in June. But in a second warning letter from the USDA in December, Jones said the new safety measures put in place over the summer weren’t “effective across the system”and that meat with both fecal matter and partly digested food, produced at multiple plants using the new inspection system, continued to show up at U.S. ports. Internal documents show that the contaminated shipments included beef, mutton and goat meat.

    According to Australian e-mail exchanges, the USDA labeled Australia “the worst performer of all exporting countries.”

    New Zealand is the country that was most recently given USDA approval to export meat to the United States from plants using the alternative inspection procedures. Since permission was granted in 2011, no meat produced by these plants has been rejected at U.S. ports because of contamination, according to New Zealand food-safety officials.

    But New Zealand government inspectors warn that the plants are at times producing contaminated meat.

    Ian Baldick, a representative of the inspectors union who also worked in one of the plants, said that the processing lines are moving too quickly to catch tainted meant and that there is not proper oversight by private company inspectors.

    “Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses,” he said. “Not small bits, but chunks.”

    The future is now. It’s just not the future you were hoping for.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 10, 2013, 8:58 am
  5. The USDA’s GoVeg campaign is utilizing some surprisingly powerful and persuasive messaging:

    Feds shut Calif. chicken plant infested with cockroaches
    Michael Winter, USA TODAY 9:31 p.m. EST January 8, 2014
    The Foster Farms plant in California is one of three investigated for a salmonella outbreak nationwide.

    Federal inspectors Wednesday suspended processing at a Foster Farms poultry plant in California that is infested with cockroaches.

    The plant is one of three in central California being investigated for an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella that has sickened more than 400 people nationwide.

    In October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture refused to close the plant, saying Foster Farms had “submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations.”

    Citing “egregious insanitary conditions,” the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service suspended processing at the plant in Livingston, near Fresno, one of the company’s biggest facilities, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

    Cockroaches carry viruses and bacteria, including salmonella.

    USDA inspectors have cited the Livingston plant for roaches several times since September, the suspension notice said.

    Hopefully that cockroach infestation was something that just popped up last September although it probably doesn’t matter. Resistance is futile.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 8, 2014, 8:27 pm
  6. The FDA recently increased the regulations on antibiotics added to soap. Now manufacturers need to prove that the antibiotic is actually safe and more effective than soap and water alone.

    This is some very good news because antibiotics are, ironically, both a vital tool in modern medicine and a gateway to the unstoppable plagues of tomorrow:

    The risk is real: ‘We have already run out of antibiotics’ according to experts
    By Agence France-Presse
    Sunday, January 19, 2014 10:15 EST

    Humans face the very real risk of a future without antibiotics, a world of plummeting life expectancy where people die from diseases easily treatable today, scientists say.

    Experts tracking the rise of drug resistance say years of health gains could be rolled back by mutating microbes that make illnesses more difficult and expensive to cure and carry a higher risk of death.

    Some say the threat to wellbeing is on the scale of global warming or terrorism — yet resistance is being allowed to spread through an entirely preventable means — improper use of antibiotics.

    “It is a major public health problem,” Patrice Courvalin, who heads the Antibacterial Agents Unit of France’s Pasteur Institute, told AFP.

    “It is about more than not being able to treat a disease. It will erase much progress made in the last 20-30 years.”

    Without antibiotics to tackle opportunistic bacteria that pose a particular risk for people who are very ill, major surgery, organ transplants or cancer and leukaemia treatment may become impossible, he explained.

    “In some parts of the world, already we have run out of antibiotics,” said Timothy Walsh, a professor of medical microbiology at Cardiff University.

    “In places in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, possibly Russia, Southeast Asia, central South America, we are at the end game. There’s nothing left. And unfortunately there is nothing in the pipeline either.”

    Resistance to drugs emerges through changes in the bacterium’s genetic code — altering the target on its surface to which antibiotics would normally bind, making the germ impenetrable or allowing it to destroy or “spit out” the antibiotic.

    These super-germs triumph through Darwinian pressure, helped by humans.

    The wrong antibiotics, taken for too short a period, in too low a dose or stopped to early, will fail to kill the altered microbes.

    Instead, the drugs will indiscriminately damage other bacteria and give the resistant strain a competitive advantage — allowing it to dominate and spread.

    At the base of the problem is doctors prescribing antibiotics wrongly or unnecessarily, and the ease with which medicines can be obtained without a script in some parts of the world, including Asia and Africa.

    As much as 70 percent of antibiotics are given for viral infections, against which they are wholly ineffective, the experts say.

    Then there is the problem of farmers in countries like the United States adding antibiotics to animal feed to help herds grow faster.

    Compounding all of this is the rise in global travel — a boon for bacterial spread, and a sharp drop in antibiotics development blamed on a lack of financial incentives for the pharmaceutical industry.

    A return to the pre-antibiotic era?

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) says drug resistance “threatens a return to the pre-antibiotic era”.

    “Many infectious diseases risk becoming untreatable or uncontrollable,” it states in a factsheet on antimicrobial resistance.

    A case in point: some 450 000 people developed multi-drug resistant (MDR) TB in 2012 and 170,000 died from it. MDR TB does not respond to the most potent TB drugs — isoniazid and rifampin.

    Nearly 10 percent of MDR cases are thought to be of the even deadlier XDR (extensively drug resistant) variety which does not respond to a yet wider range of drugs.

    Like other drug-resistant microbes, MDR and XDR TB can be transferred directly between people — you can get it even if you have never taken antibiotics in your life.

    “Antibiotic resistance is an emerging disease and a societal problem. The use you can make of an antibiotic depends on the use made by others,” said Courvalin.

    Another worry for health planners today is the spread of a multi-drug resistant strain of the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae — a common cause of infections of the urinary tract, respiratory tract and bloodstream, and a frequent source of hospital outbreaks.

    In some parts of the world, only the carbapenem antibiotics class remains effective, but now signs are emerging of resistance even to this last line of defence.

    Antibiotics are thought to have saved hundreds of millions of lives since Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin in 1928.

    But even Fleming’s own warnings of impending drug resistance went unheeded, and now scientists say people may start dying from infections like meningitis and septicaemia that are eminently curable today.

    “If we keep going like this, the vast majority of human bacterial pathogens will be multi-resistant to antibiotics,” said Courvalin.

    Well that’s some good news for a change. Unfortunately, there’s still an alarming amount of room for additional good news regarding humanity’s life-threatening drug abuse problems.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 19, 2014, 3:56 pm
  7. The USDA announced a new massive beef recall from the Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, CA, over unsanitary conditions. Hanford is the same region that had a mad cow scare in April 2012, although the identity of the plant where the diseased cow was found hasn’t been disclosed. Central Valley Meat Co. was also shut down in August 2012, after videos of animals abuse were made public. This latest shutdown of Central Valley meat processor is on the heals of the closing of the Rancho Feeding Corp., another Central Valley meat processing plant. Fortunately, there were no animals found with mad cow from the Rancho Feeding Corp. plant. Unfortunately, it sounds like that’s because they were slaughtering visibly diseased animals without full inspections:

    USDA closes school lunch supplier; some Hot Pockets recalled
    By Ed Payne and Chandler Friedman, CNN
    updated 11:08 AM EST, Wed February 19, 2014

    (CNN) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has withdrawn its inspectors and suspended operations at a California meat company because of “insanitary conditions at the establishment,” the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Wednesday.

    The Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, California, supplies beef for federal school nutrition programs. In 2011, it provided nearly 21 million pounds of beef, or nearly 16% of the supply.

    “The plant’s suspension will be lifted once we receive adequate assurances of corrective action,” a USDA statement said.

    Meanwhile, Nestlé USA has issued a recall of two varieties of Philly Steak and Cheese Hot Pockets because they may contain meat the department has already recalled.

    The two brands are Hot Pockets brand Philly Steak and Cheese in three different pack sizes, and Hot Pockets brand Croissant Crust Philly Steak and Cheese in the two-pack box.

    For the exact batch code, please check this release.

    Earlier, the USDA had recalled more than 8.7 million pounds of meat from the Rancho Feeding Corp. because it “processed diseased and unsound animals and carried out these activities without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection.”

    No illnesses have been reported in relation to the recall.

    According to Nestlé, consumers should return the products to the place of purchase for a full refund or contact Nestlé consumer services at 800-392-4057.

    In August 2012, Central Valley Meat was closed while the USDA investigated what it called “disturbing evidence of inhumane treatment of cattle” at the supplier following its receipt of a video from an animal welfare group.

    However, the USDA said at the time the video found nothing that would compromise food safety.

    Central Valley Meat was cleared to reopen a few days later after the USDA said the company “committed to a number of corrective actions, including additional humane handling training for employees and safeguards

    Hmmm…beef seems to be going through a natural and healthy cleansing process at the moment. What else is on the menu?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 19, 2014, 9:49 am
  8. Awwww…it turns out the 2011 story of the poop-steak researchers in Japan was just a hoax. Sorry meat-lovers, no poop steaks for you. If only you were a pig. Yep, pigs are increasingly being fed baby-big poop as a way to fend off the new porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus. Sounds mad? Well, that’s a less insane than feeding your bacon baby pigs:

    The New York Times
    Is That Sausage Worth This?
    Nicholas Kristoff

    FEB. 19, 2014

    Modern factory farms have so much wrong with them, but a starting point is the practice of turning pigs into cannibals.

    A video, taken secretly by an undercover worker and scheduled to be released on Thursday by the Humane Society of the United States, pulls back the curtain on the banal brutality of a huge hog operation in Kentucky called Iron Maiden Farms (which declined to comment). The video shows barns filled with hogs jammed so tightly into tiny individual pens that they can’t move, chewing forlornly on the bars that restrain them.

    It also shows workers gutting dead piglets and turning their intestines into a purée that is then fed back to the mother pigs, or sows. This is meant to immunize the sows against a virus, porcine epidemic diarrhea, or P.E.D., that has ravaged the hog industry, killing millions of piglets.

    Tom Burkgren, the executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, said that feeding the piglet intestines to sows is legal and safe but that hog farmers are increasingly finding that it’s more effective simply to use diarrhea from an infected animal to expose sows to P.E.D.

    “From a public health standpoint, I don’t think there’s a risk there,” Burkgren said, noting that P.E.D. affects only pigs. “There’s no mad pig disease.”

    That’s a reference to mad cow disease, which was spread by feeding ground-up cows to other cows. Likewise, giant poultry farms feed “spent hen meal,” consisting of ground-up old chickens, to egg-laying hens.

    Whether or not there are public health risks to feeding pig parts to pigs, there are larger issues about the way we raise our food. Nine out of 10 sows in America are kept in gestation crates, according to the National Pork Producers Council. These are tiny stalls that are barely bigger than the pigs, who don’t even have enough room to turn around.

    They live out their adult lives without exercise or meaningful social interaction; it’s like a life sentence of solitary confinement in a coffin, punctuated by artificial insemination and birth. No wonder the animals’ muscles atrophy and they show signs of aggression and stress.

    Yes, as a result of this new pig-poo feeding trend the US pork industry might actually regain non-cannibal status and all it took was a little baby pig poo (but don’t hold your breath). Still grossed out but can’t quite imagine giving up pork? Well, don’t worry. You’ll get over your pork pooaranoia eventually.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 21, 2014, 9:46 am
  9. If Donald Trump’s grand schemes don’t normally leave you feeling a little ill this one might do the tick trick:

    Dobie: Be wary of Donald Trump’s proposal to purchase Plum Island

    Wednesday October 9, 2013 10:16 AM By Michael Dobie

    So Donald Trump wants to buy the island where they research hoof and mouth disease.


    On the face of it, his proposal to purchase Plum Island and build a golf course there is preposterous, with economics that just don’t work. Which is why some observers — figuring The Art of the Deal man must have something up his impeccably tailored sleeve — are quietly worried, and monitoring developments carefully. That’s a good idea.

    Here’s the backdrop: The federal government is slated to close its high-security animal testing lab on Plum Island and sell the island to help defray the costs of opening the lab’s replacement in Kansas in 2019. The General Services Administration is expected to put Plum Island up for sale via an online auction within a few years.

    Trump’s plan, as presented to local elected officials, is to buy the island, take down the lab, do the required environmental cleanup, and build the golf course. One of the local environmentalists (some of them also have been briefed by Trump’s representatives) said Trump described the course’s proposed clubhouse as “modest.” Trump? Since when does he do modest? But put that aside for a moment.

    If you’re The Donald, here’s what makes a purchase attractive: It’s an island, an 840-acre island less than 2 miles off Orient Point, much of it pristine, and how often does something like that come on the market? And it most likely will be available for a fire sale price — because of the expensive cleanup that will be needed and the constraints of new zoning adopted by the Town of Southold that makes building almost anything almost impossible.

    Which brings us to the obstacles: The zoning adopted recently by Southold in anticipation of a sale does not allow for a golf course. It allows for laboratory research where the lab is and makes the rest of the island a conservation district. The zoning also bans residential development (in other words, no condos on the no-can-do golf course). Current town officials — who prefer that the existing lab facilities be taken over by a biotech or pharmaceutical company — seem to have no interest in Trump’s proposal and no appetite for revisiting the new zoning.

    And yet he is interested. Why?

    Trump’s pitch in the face of serious known obstacles is what’s causing some of the anxiety on the North Fork. People know that town board members change, town supervisors change, zoning board members change, circumstances change. Could his game be to buy and wait? Purchasing Plum Island would be a risk, but the buy-in could be small and the potential payoff very large.

    So what’s par for the course going to be? Oh yeah, Lyme Disease.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 27, 2014, 10:04 pm
  10. When good bugs go bad:

    When harmless bacteria became flesh-eating monsters
    New research indicates that one of the most virulent flesh-eating bacteria went rogue in 1983 after undergoing a series of genetic changes.
    By Haaretz | Apr. 21, 2014 | 1:44 PM

    Most of us have heard of flesh-eating bacteria, which attack healthy flesh at a fearsome rate. But few are aware that these bacteria were once benign, before taking a murderous turn.

    Now, scientists at the have Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston, Texas, have tracked the evolutionary history of one of the bacteria and pinpointed precisely when it became a mass murderer, according to an article on The Conversation website.

    The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on a flesh-eater called GAS, or Group A ß-hemolytic streptococcus, a highly infective bacteria. Apart from causing flesh-eating disease, GAS is also responsible for a range of less harmful infections.

    The GAS bacteria first began to affect humans in the 1980s. To find out where it came from and why it turned deadly, Musser and his team analyzed bacterial genetic data from across the world. A total of about 3,600 streptococcus strains were collected and their genomes recorded.

    It revealed that a series of distinct genetic events turned this bacteria rogue.
    First, foreign DNA moved into the original harmless streptococcus by horizontal gene transfer – a phenomenon that is common among bacteria. Such DNA is often provided by bacteriophages, viruses that specifically target bacteria.

    In the case of GAS, the foreign DNA that was incorporated in the host’s genome allowed the streptococcus cell to produce two harmful toxins. A further mutation to one of these toxin genes made it even more virulent.

    Then a second horizontal gene transfer provided an additional set of genes, allowing the pathogen to produce proteins that suppress the immune system of those infected, making the infection worse. GAS became a serial killer.

    Using statistical modeling, Musser was able to date the last genetic change, which turned GAS into a highly virulent bacteria, to 1983.

    “The date we deduced coincided with numerous mentions of streptococcus epidemics in the literature,” Musser said.

    Lets hope GAS doesn’t start hanging out with MRSA. That could be one of those ‘there goes the neighborhood!‘-experiences.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 22, 2014, 2:45 pm
  11. Here’s one of those stories that should have pretty much everyone deeply concerned: Ebola is back and stronger than ever:

    Ebola called ‘out of control’ in West Africa
    Michael Winter, USA TODAY 6:30 p.m. EDT June 20, 2014

    The deadliest-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus has surged in West Africa after slowing briefly, and the pandemic is now “out of control,” according to Doctors Without Borders.

    Nearly 600 infections and 340 Ebola-related deaths have been recorded in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the most since the virus was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan almost 40 years ago, the World Health Organization said this week. There’s no cure or vaccine for the highly contagious disease, which has mortality rate of up to 90%.

    “The reality is clear that the epidemic is now in a second wave,” Bart Janssens, the medical charity’s operations director, told the Associated Press on Friday. “And, for me, it is totally out of control.”

    He criticized the WHO and African governments for not doing more to contain the outbreak and to thoroughly trace everyone who has had contact with the sick or the dead.

    “There needs to be a real political commitment that this is a very big emergency,” he said. “Otherwise, it will continue to spread, and for sure it will spread to more countries.”

    As of Friday, the WHO was not recommending any travel or trade restrictions to the three countries.

    “We think that the situation can be controlled with the measures that are being vigorously implemented,” Francis Kasolo, the director for disease prevention and control at the WHO’s regional office in Republic of Congo, told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

    The virus, one of the world’s most virulent, is transmitted by contact with the blood, fluids or tissues of infected animals or people. It causes high fever, vomiting, muscle pain and diarrhea, and can result in unstoppable internal bleeding and organ failure.

    Transmission risk is especially high among doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

    “This is the highest outbreak on record and has the highest number of deaths, so this is unprecedented so far,” Armand Sprecher, a public health specialist with Doctors Without Borders, told the AP.

    Sierra Leone has stepped up measures to prevent and contain the disease, the country’s health minister said Thursday.

    In Liberia, nurses fearful over the Ebola death of a colleague abandoned a hospital in New Kru Town, forcing it to close. During a solidarity visit to the hospital Tuesday, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf declared the outbreak a national emergency.

    Ok, there might be a few people that are delighted by this news. The usual suspects.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 20, 2014, 5:06 pm
  12. There’s news out of Kansas about a never before seen tick-born virus that killed a man in 11 days in Bourbon County. So, in the spirit of anti-alarmism, it’s worth pointing out that the CDC’s new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in nearby Manhattan, Kansas (that’s due to replace the Plum Island biowarfare research facility) isn’t up and running yet:

    Additional $231 million approved for NBAF
    National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility to be built near Manhattan
    Posted: January 7, 2015 – 6:32am

    By The Associated Press

    LAWRENCE — Legislative leaders and Gov. Sam Brownback have agreed to authorize an additional $231 million in bonds to help finance the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility under construction near Manhattan, contingent on the federal government agreeing the state won’t have to pay any more for the project.

    The additional bonds will bring the state’s total investment in the estimated $1.15 billion NABF project to $307 million, or 25 percent of the total cost, whichever is lower, the Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/1xPzYjF).

    Before the state provides the funds, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must sign a letter agreeing that Kansas won’t be asked to pay more and that the federal government will fund any future cost increases, the State Finance Council said Tuesday.

    The new laboratory, expected to be fully operational by 2022, will be used to research dangerous animal-borne diseases. It will replace an aging research facility at Plum Island, New York, which Homeland Security intends to sell.

    The State Finance Council, which has the authority to make financial decisions for Kansas when the Legislature is not in session, in November balked at authorizing additional bonds until Congress appropriates money funding for its share of the project.

    Congress in December approved a bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security only through March, but it included $400 million to pay the remaining federal share of the cost of the facility.

    “We’re going to put these extra funds in,” Brownback said Tuesday. “We didn’t want to. We didn’t want the project to cost more, but we’re going to put the extra funds in. But we want to make sure this is it.”

    While $231 million isn’t exactly something Kansas afford at the moment, at least it’s in the form of bonds and not immediate cuts from elsewhere in the state budget. That could have been alarming (alarmingly typical).

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 20, 2015, 7:01 pm
  13. Just FYI, “all the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality.”:

    BBC News
    Antibiotic resistance: World on cusp of ‘post-antibiotic era’

    By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website

    19 November 2015

    The world is on the cusp of a “post-antibiotic era”, scientists have warned after finding bacteria resistant to drugs used when all other treatments have failed.

    They identified bacteria able to shrug off the drug of last resort – colistin – in patients and livestock in China.

    They said that resistance would spread around the world and raised the spectre of untreatable infections.

    It is likely resistance emerged after colistin was overused in farm animals.

    Bacteria becoming completely resistant to treatment – also known as the antibiotic apocalypse – could plunge medicine back into the dark ages.

    Common infections would kill once again, while surgery and cancer therapies, which are reliant on antibiotics, would be under threat.

    Key players

    Chinese scientists identified a new mutation, dubbed the MCR-1 gene, that prevented colistin from killing bacteria.

    The report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases showed resistance in a fifth of animals tested, 15% of raw meat samples and in 16 patients.

    And the resistance had spread between a range of bacterial strains and species, including E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

    There is also evidence that it has spread to Laos and Malaysia.

    Prof Timothy Walsh, who collaborated on the study, from the University of Cardiff, told the BBC News website: “All the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality.

    “If MCR-1 becomes global, which is a case of when not if, and the gene aligns itself with other antibiotic resistance genes, which is inevitable, then we will have very likely reached the start of the post-antibiotic era.

    “At that point if a patient is seriously ill, say with E. coli, then there is virtually nothing you can do.”

    Resistance to colistin has emerged before.

    However, the crucial difference this time is the mutation has arisen in a way that is very easily shared between bacteria.

    “The transfer rate of this resistance gene is ridiculously high, that doesn’t look good,” said Prof Mark Wilcox, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

    His hospital is now dealing with multiple cases “where we’re struggling to find an antibiotic” every month – an event he describes as being as “rare as hens’ teeth” five years ago.

    He said there was no single event that would mark the start of the antibiotic apocalypse, but it was clear “we’re losing the battle”.

    The concern is that the new resistance gene will hook up with others plaguing hospitals, leading to bacteria resistant to all treatment – what is known as pan-resistance.

    Prof Wilcox told the BBC News website: “Do I fear we’ll get to an untreatable organism situation? Ultimately yes.

    “Whether that happens this year, or next year, or the year after, it’s very hard to say.”

    Early indications suggest the Chinese government is moving swiftly to address the problem.

    Prof Walsh is meeting both the agricultural and health ministries this weekend to discuss whether colistin should be banned for agricultural use.

    Prof Laura Piddock, from the campaign group Antibiotic Action, said the same antibiotics “should not be used in veterinary and human medicine”.

    She told the BBC News website: “Hopefully the post-antibiotic era is not upon us yet. However, this is a wake-up call to the world.”

    She argued the dawning of the post-antibiotic era “really depends on the infection, the patient and whether there are alternative treatment options available” as combinations of antibiotics may still be effective.

    New drugs are in development, such as teixobactin, which might delay the apocalypse, but are not yet ready for medical use.

    So it’s looking like our upcoming bacterial apocalypse, which is clearly not going to be limited to humans but could spread all over the ecosystem, was completely predictable and avoidable:

    It is likely resistance emerged after colistin was overused in farm animals.

    Common infections would kill once again, while surgery and cancer therapies, which are reliant on antibiotics, would be under threat.

    The report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases showed resistance in a fifth of animals tested, 15% of raw meat samples and in 16 patients.

    Resistance to colistin has emerged before.

    However, the crucial difference this time is the mutation has arisen in a way that is very easily shared between bacteria.

    “The transfer rate of this resistance gene is ridiculously high, that doesn’t look good,” said Prof Mark Wilcox, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

    You have to wonder how many future refugee crises of people with compromised immune systems are going to be triggered by mass outbreaks of now-common bacteria morphing into super-bugs. You also have to wonder which nations are the most likely to experience such crises given the role industrial farming practices appears to have played in creating this situation.

    In other news…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 20, 2015, 9:25 am
  14. According to a recent study out of the UK, if the world doesn’t find a way to effective halt the spread of drug-resistant ‘superbugs’, those critters could end up killing 10 million people a year, more than killed by cancer, by the year 2050. Hopefully that not the actual future we create, but as the article below makes clear, a superbug-filled future is indeed the future we’re currently creating:

    Associated Press

    US reports first case of bacteria resistant to antibiotic of last resort

    ‘It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently,’ says Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after superbug infects Pennsylvania woman

    Thursday 26 May 2016 20.05 EDT

    For the first time, a US patient has been infected with bacteria resistant to an antibiotic used as a last resort, scientists said Thursday.

    The patient, a 49-year-old woman in Pennsylvania, has recovered but health officials fear that if the resistance spreads to other bacteria, the country may soon see supergerms impervious to all known antibiotics.

    “It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently,” Dr Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in Washington.

    Other countries have already seen multidrug-resistant superbugs that no antibiotic can fight. So far, the US has not. But this sets the stage for that development, CDC officials said.

    The woman had gone to a military clinic in Pennsylvania in April and was treated for a urinary tract infection. Initial tests found she was infected with E coli bacteria, a common variety of germ seen in the gut that often makes its way to the bladder.

    But the tests showed this E coli was resistant to antibiotics commonly used first for such infections. She was successfully treated with another kind of antibiotic.

    But while she has recovered, further testing completed in the last week confirmed the E coli was carrying a gene for resistance against the drug colistin.

    Colistin is an old antibiotic. By the 1970s, doctors had mostly stopped using it because of its harsh side effects. But it was brought back as other antibiotics began losing their effectiveness.

    It is used against hard-to-treat bacteria that resist one of the last lines of defence, antibiotics called carbapenems. If those germs pick up the colistin-resistance gene, doctors may be out of treatment options, health officials say.

    “This is another piece of a really nasty puzzle that we didn’t want to see here,” said Dr Beth Bell, who oversees CDC’s emerging infectious diseases programs.

    The CDC is working with Pennsylvania health officials to interview the woman and her family to try to figure out how she might have picked up the strain. The woman had not travelled outside the country recently, officials said.

    The colistin-resistant gene has been seen in animals and people in China, Europe and Canada. Federal officials said on Thursday that colistin-resistant E coli has also been found in a pig in the US, but there was nothing to link the finding to the Pennsylvania case.

    ““It is the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act urgently,” Dr Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in Washington.”
    Well, that certainly doesn’t bode for the general health in the United States. And keep in mind that while the superbugs themselves might kill more people than cancer, that could be due in part to the fact that the treatments for an array of diseases simply will not be possible without effective antibiotics, included cancer treatments.

    Still, the situation could be worse. For instance, there could massive outbreak of superbugs that were literally polluting beaches and heavily-used waterways. And this could all be happening right before a huge international event surrounded by those polluted waterways that end up simultaneously spreading these bugs all over the world. And, on top of all that, there could be a massive Zika virus outbreak on top of all the other health concerns. Yes, the superbug situation could be much, much worse:


    Exclusive: Studies find ‘super bacteria’ in Rio’s Olympic venues, top beaches

    RIO DE JANEIRO | By Brad Brooks
    Sat Jun 11, 2016 10:57am EDT

    Scientists have found dangerous drug-resistant “super bacteria” off beaches in Rio de Janeiro that will host Olympic swimming events and in a lagoon where rowing and canoe athletes will compete when the Games start on Aug. 5.

    The findings from two unpublished academic studies seen by Reuters concern Rio’s most popular spots for tourists and greatly increase the areas known to be infected by the microbes normally found only in hospitals.

    They also heighten concerns that Rio’s sewage-infested waterways are unsafe.

    A study published in late 2014 had shown the presence of the super bacteria – classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an urgent public health threat – off one of the beaches in Guanabara Bay, where sailing and wind-surfing events will be held during the Games.

    The first of the two new studies, reviewed in September by scientists at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Diego, showed the presence of the microbes at five of Rio’s showcase beaches, including the ocean-front Copacabana, where open-water and triathlon swimming will take place.

    The other four were Ipanema, Leblon, Botafogo and Flamengo.

    The super bacteria can cause hard-to-treat urinary, gastrointestinal, pulmonary and bloodstream infections, along with meningitis. The CDC says studies show that these bacteria contribute to death in up to half of patients infected.

    The second new study, by the Brazilian federal government’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation lab, which will be published next month by the American Society for Microbiology, found the genes of super bacteria in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in the heart of Rio and in a river that empties into Guanabara Bay.

    Waste from countless hospitals, in addition to hundreds of thousands of households, pours into storm drains, rivers and streams crisscrossing Rio, allowing the super bacteria to spread outside the city’s hospitals in recent years.

    Renata Picao, a professor at Rio’s federal university and lead researcher of the first study, said the contamination of Rio’s famous beaches was the result of a lack of basic sanitation in the metropolitan area of 12 million people.

    “These bacteria should not be present in these waters. They should not be present in the sea,” said Picao from her lab in northern Rio, itself enveloped by stench from Guanabara Bay.

    Cleaning the city’s waterways was meant to be one of the Games’ greatest legacies and a high-profile promise in the official 2009 bid document Rio used to win the right to host South America’s first Olympics.

    That goal has instead transformed into an embarrassing failure, with athletes lamenting the stench of sewage and complaining about debris that bangs into and clings to boats in Guanabara Bay, potential hazards for a fair competition.


    Picao’s study, which has undergone internal reviews at Rio’s federal university, analyzed water samples taken between September 2013 and September 2014. Using 10 samples taken at five beach locations, the study found super bacteria were most present at Botafogo beach, where all samples were positive.

    Flamengo beach, where spectators will gather to watch Olympic sailors vie for medals, had the super bacteria in 90 percent of samples. Ten percent of Copacabana’s samples had the microbes.

    Ipanema and Leblon beaches, the most popular with tourists, had samples that tested positive for super bacteria 50 and 60 percent of the time, respectively.

    The Oswaldo Cruz study of the Olympic lagoon, which was peer reviewed, is based on water samples taken in 2013. It found that the lake is a potential breeding ground for super bacteria and their spread through the city.

    While the studies both use water samples that are from 2013 and 2014, Picao and other experts said they had seen no advances in sewerage infrastructure in Rio to improve the situation.

    Valerie Harwood, an expert in recreational water contamination and antibiotic-resistant bacteria at the University of South Florida who was not involved in the studies, said that if anything, things were getting worse, as the super bacteria naturally spread by infecting other microbes.

    The contamination has prompted federal police and prosecutors to investigate whether Rio’s water utility Cedae is committing environmental crimes by lying about how much sewage it treats. Investigators are also looking into where billions of dollars in funds went since the early 1990s, money earmarked to improve sewage services and clean Guanabara Bay.

    Cedae has denied any wrongdoing. It said in an emailed statement that any super bacteria found at the beaches or the Olympic lagoon must be the result of illegal dumping into storm drains. Cedae said it carries out sewage treatment and collection in the entire “south zone” of Rio, where the bodies of water are located and where the water samples were taken.


    Five scientists consulted by Reuters said the immediate risk to people’s health when faced with super bacteria infection depends on the state of their immune systems.

    These bacteria are opportunistic microbes that can enter the body, lie dormant, then attack at a later date when a healthy person may fall ill for another reason.

    Super bacteria infect not only humans but also otherwise-harmless bacteria present in the waters, turning them into antibiotic-resistant germs.

    Harwood said the super bacteria genes discovered in the Olympic lagoon were probably not harmful if swallowed by themselves: they need to be cocooned inside of a bacterium.

    “Those genes are like candy. They are organic molecules and they’ll be eaten up by other bacteria, other organisms,” Harwood said. “That’s where the danger is – if a person then ingests that infected organism – because it will make it through their gastrointestinal tract and potentially make someone ill.”

    The presence of the super bacteria genes in the lagoon indicates the bacteria themselves had recently died or simply were not detected by testing, Harwood said.

    Rio state’s Inea environmental agency said in an emailed statement it follows the World Health Organization’s recommendations for testing recreational water safety, and that searching for super bacteria is not included in that. It also said there was a lack of studies about the bacteria in water and health outcomes.

    “Flamengo beach, where spectators will gather to watch Olympic sailors vie for medals, had the super bacteria in 90 percent of samples. Ten percent of Copacabana’s samples had the microbes.”
    So it looks like the 2016 Olympics might be a major event in humanity’s aggressive stumble into the post-Antibiotic era. Hopefully the 2020 games will have fewer environmental pollution threats. Hopefully.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 14, 2016, 12:35 pm
  15. Just FYI, the post-antibiotics era is still knocking on the door. Or, in the case of the US farm that was recently discovered to be infested with a dreaded superbug, is now knocking on the bacon:

    NBC News

    Rare Superbug Gene Discovered on U.S. Pig Farm

    by Maggie Fox
    Dec 6 2016, 8:46 am ET

    Researchers have found a rare and frightening superbug gene on a U.S. pig farm and say their discovery suggests raw meat could carry the dangerous germs into the human population.

    No pigs scheduled for slaughter carried the mutant gene, the researchers stressed, and they haven’t found any threat to people yet. And none of the pigs were sick. But the mutant should not have been on the farm at all and they have no idea how it got there.

    “It is an extremely rare gene. How it got on this farm, we don’t know,” said Thomas Wittum, chair of the veterinary medicine team at The Ohio State University, who led the study team.

    The gene is called bla IMP-27 and it gives bacteria the ability to resist the effects of a class of antibiotics called carbapenems.

    Carbapenems are considered an antibiotic of last resort, so germs that resist their effects are very difficult to kill.

    Worse, this superbug gene is carried on an easily swapped bit of genetic material called a plasmid, and the researchers found it in several different species of bacteria on the farm.

    That suggests the bacteria have been passing the gene around.

    The worry is that the gene will get into bacteria that infect people. A type of antibiotic-resistant germ called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, are especially dangerous. If they get into the bloodstream and cause an infection, CRE germs kill half their victims.

    Just this summer researchers sounded the alarm about a drug-resistant E. coli sample carrying a gene called mcr-1. It was also carried on a plasmid, and the fear is such an E. coli bacteria with the mcr-1 gene could pass it to another superbug with other mutations — creating a truly super superbug that resists all known antibiotics.

    Something similar could potentially happen with the bla IMP-27 gene found at the pig farm.

    Wittum and his team had been checking samples submitted to testing labs from pigs suspected of carrying bad infections, and from a few samples sent from farms.

    The bla IMP-27 gene turned up in a single farm sample, Wittum said. He turned his team loose to test the farm. They moved in with swabs and swiffers.

    The farm was a moderate-sized, family-run operation, Wittum said. He declined to identify it any further than that. It has 1,500 sows and raises the pigs from pregnancy to sale for slaughter.

    They made multiple visits last year to the farm, where the sows give birth in tight pens and the piglets are taken to separate pens of 25 each after they are weaned. They found samples of the bla IMP-27 gene in several different samples and in several different species of bacteria, including E. coli and Enterobacteriaceae.

    Several of the bacteria found resisted more than one type of antibiotic.

    They were also found in some of the sows and piglets, although the animals appeared to have cleared the germs; none were found in pigs ready for slaughter, although the team is watching for them.

    But it’s bad news to find this rare superbug gene in bacteria infecting food animals, Wittum said.

    “The implication of our finding is that there is a real risk that CRE may disseminate in food animal populations and eventually contaminate fresh retail meat products,” the researchers wrote.

    Even if it doesn’t make people sick right away, it could colonize people who handle the raw meat. Colonization means people (or animals) carry a germ but don’t get sick from it — but if they do become ill with something else, the bacteria can multiply. Plus, colonized people can infect sick or frail people.

    “The emergence of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has been described as heralding the end of the antibiotic era with their global expansion presenting an urgent threat to public health,” the researchers wrote.

    “These potential pathogens can harbor highly mobile genes that confer resistance to the most critically important, live-saving antimicrobial drugs.”

    It’s also worrying that the farmer has no idea where the germ came from. “This operation has been managed as a closed herd since the 1960’s,” the researchers wrote.

    “We think it was carried in,” Wittum added. “We don’t know if it was on equipment or supplies or by people.”

    Wittum says the pigs never were given any carbapenem drugs and they were not dosed with antibiotics to promote their growth – a common but increasingly condemned practice known to contribute to the rise of antibiotic resistance. But they do get antibiotics.

    “As is common in U.S. swine production, piglets on this farm receive ceftiofur at birth, with males receiving a second dose at castration,” the team noted.

    This routine dosing may be helping drive the development of mutant bacteria, Wittum said.

    “We may need to examine some of the practices of farms, and evaluate whether they are really appropriate, and whether the benefits outweigh the risks,” he added.

    “To save our miracle drugs, we have got to stop wasting them on animals that aren’t sick,” said Dr. David Wallinga of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which opposes the routine agricultural use of antibiotics.

    “The last terrible shoe may have just dropped when it comes to drug-resistant infections. This is just one more warning that doctors may soon have nothing left in their toolkit to save patients when these bugs strike.”

    “Worse, this superbug gene is carried on an easily swapped bit of genetic material called a plasmid, and the researchers found it in several different species of bacteria on the farm.”

    Yeah, reports of plasmids of doom are pretty disturbing. But note what is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this story: They still have no idea how it got there which means the outside source of contamination is presumably still running around spreading it:

    It’s also worrying that the farmer has no idea where the germ came from. “This operation has been managed as a closed herd since the 1960’s,” the researchers wrote.

    “We think it was carried in,” Wittum added. “We don’t know if it was on equipment or supplies or by people.”

    So that’s happening. It’s one more compelling reason to swap out the bacon with facon. One of many.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 7, 2016, 9:20 pm

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