Pandemicals June 2005

By Roger Freeman, DDS
Originally published in Infection Control Today

Are We Lucky, or What?

On April 12, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Salk polio vaccine, one of the great biomedical breakthroughs of the century. Because polio was eradicated in the United States in 1979, we may take for granted what geezers remember as the annual terror of this dread disease. Didja know that Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself a polio survivor, was a prime mover in encouraging Americans to “spare a dime?” In fact, he helped create a March of Dimes campaign 17 years prior to the Salk discovery. Today, using the oral vaccine developed by Dr. Albert Sabin, Rotary International is on point in the global effort to eradicate polio, which continues to simmer in 11 countries. 2005 was the target for complete eradication, and while the goal remains elusive, the efforts continue by Rotarians and other committed volunteers. Amidst the wreckage of much human behavior, this is one of the true inspirational stories of our lifetime.

How Do You Get it Past Their Lips?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a chemical used in mouthwashes for use in preventing foodborne illness in poultry. The chemical compound, cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) apparently has been shown to protect against salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other culinary culprits when sprayed on meat surfaces. No more “slick chicken,” the heartbreaking result of several other chemicals tested. And while bleach can be an effective antimicrobial, surveys indicate that blonde chickens are not more fun! More good news: almost no resistance to CPC has been developed. Chicken hygienists rejoice. At last, disease-free chickens with pleasing breath!

Cruise Control

In an effort to avoid calling a duck a duck, cruise lines are urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a new term for viral outbreaks aboard ship (remember when they were called “epidemics?”) Apparently, 2004’s record of 37 such events has tended to dampen the food frolics so much a part of the shipboard “experience.” The main culprit continues to be the norovirus (“Norwalk”), the same one that has taken down scads of the unsuspecting at hotels, nursing homes and hospitals. The cruise lines claim we bring the critters aboard and then forget to wash our hands. Uh huh, and we suppose all those sous chefs are simply pawns of our great unwashedness! By the way, did you know that the CDC’s reporting regs now require disclosure of any incidents that include either the “v” word or the “d” word! Maybe you didn’t want to know

Fridge Grazers

You know who you are. The wife tending to the hearth, the kids gaming, the glance around for the coast-clear, the all clear. Cups inconvenient, spoons sloppy, forks girliemanly. What’s the point, anyway? Why not go direct? Container contagion strikes again! Sound familiar? Know anyone with this slightly repulsive habit? Ever wonder about the ripples of serial carton-lipping? Well, according to some experts, there’s a growing list of potentially dangerous foodborne pathogens that can actually multiply at refrigeration temps. Listeria m., Yersina e., and even some strains of E. coli are known to literally chill up in the cooler. Not to mention unannounced influenza shedders just itching to move on. Where is the tough surveillance when you really need it?

Dental Plaque Gets Around

Bacteria found in dental plaque has already been implicated in cardiovascular disease. Now, a new health risk has recently been flossed to light. Researchers have recently established a link between dental plaque microflora and fatal pneumonia in the elderly. In a small study done at University of Buffalo, oral “molecular fingerprints” were taken of 49 nursing home residents with high risk of pneumonia; 14 of the participants developed pneumonia, 10 of whom started out with respiratory disease-causing microbes in the plaque surrounding their teeth. Tests of germs from the lungs revealed matching DNA in both lungs and plaque for eight of the patients. We suspect there’s much more to learn from that annoying sticky stuff we try so hard to eliminate in two-a-days.

Infected RAMs

Relax, vets ... no animals were harmed in this story. It seems that five members of the St. Louis Rams developed nasty infections during the 2003 season after sustaining “rug burns” on artificial turf. Then, in the unkindest exposure of them all, they apparently passed them on to their chief rivals, their pals the San Francisco ‘49ers. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers believe there is a growing skin-to-skin transmission among athletes in contact sports, especially worrisome considering increased incidence of antibiotic-resistant staph infection. For the record, players with larger body mass appeared to be susceptible (large, larger, largest?). Note: this is a surprising story, in that we can’t remember the Rams contacting anyone when they were in Los Angeles!

What Did You Do Today Dear?

Dr. Maurice R. Hilleman died April 17, 2005 at the age of 85. Here is the short list of his accomplishments: developed a vaccine to protect American troops in WWII from the Japanese B encephalitis virus; in 1957 helped break the back of the Asian flu, preventing a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic; developed more that 40 vaccines, including those against mumps, measles, chickenpox, rubella, hepatitis A and B, meningitis and flu; pioneered the MMR combination vaccination now routinely given to children; identified the “shift” and “drift” phenomena that characterizes viral mutation. It’s been estimated the measles vaccine alone has saved more than 1 million lives annually for 40-plus years. Considered by those who should know as the most successful vaccinologist in history, Dr. Hillman’s name is linked to such giants as Pasteur and Koch. He’s a man who truly changed the world. Gulp ... and I never heard of him. And that’s not all...

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Roger P. Freeman, DDS, is a retired dentist, and is currently president of Infectious Awareables, Inc., a private company that creates science-based products designed to promote infection-prevention awareness.