Emerging Disease Sites:
ProMed-Mail “the global electronic reporting system for outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases & toxins” This is the Email site where physicians report outbreaks of emerging diseases to their colleagues across the world.
Reading the posts on this site gives one a sense of being where the action is – these are reports from the doctors who are actually seeing emerging diseases as they emerge.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS is a new emerging virus believed to belong to the family paramyxoviridae, viruses that cause a number of human diseases, including measles, usually involving respiratory symptoms. SARS has taken 13 lives and made 230 people ill all over the world. SARS seems to have spread from one floor of a hotel in Hong Kong to people returning to their homes in the UK, Canada, Vietnam, Singapore, and Colorado, as well as Hong Kong and (possibly) Guangzhou province, China
In Malaysia in 1999, another paramyxovirus called Nipah caused an eight-month long outbreak of illness (the main symptom of which was brain inflammation), infecting 265 people and killing 105. Nipah appears to have jumped species from pigs, as most of the people affected had prior contact with pigs. A second paramyxovirus called Hendra caused three small outbreaks in Australia in the 1990s. Some of those victims had contact with horses.
Ebola and Marburg, two virulent emerging viruses which cause deadly hemorrhagic fevers, belong to the family filoviridae – so named because of their rope-like appearance under the electron microscope. Early this year, Ebola spread from its original outbreak point in central Africa near the Ebola River to the Republic of Congo in west Africa, killing large numbers of people and gorillas. Until this year, Ebola had only broken out in Zaïre (the Ebola Zaïre strain) and the Sudan (the Ebola Maridi strain) in central Africa.
Ebola reston, a strain of Ebola from the Phillipines which is so far not virulent in humans, has broken out in three holding areas for cynomolgus lab monkeys in the United States and in the primate facility Ferlite Farms near Manila which supplied the monkeys. Ebola reston is named for the city of Reston, Virginia, USA, where the first outbreak of the disease occurred (Richard Preston’s book The Hot Zone is a very readable, popular-audience account of the early outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg, leading up to a detailed analysis of the Reston outbreak).
”Ebola and Marburg Virus Taxonomy and Morphology,” Frederick A. Murphy, Guido Van Der Groen, Sylvia G. Whitfield, and James V. Lange (Murphy, Whitfield and Lange were with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta GA, USA; van der Groen was with the Prince Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium)
New variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, mad cow disease, and chronic wasting disease are emerging members of a newly recognized class of illnesses – infectious spongiform encephalopathies. Older diseases such as kuru, scrapie, and visna are now thought to also belong to this class of diseases, and it is possible that there are countless other members of this deadly group. The indisputable point these diseases have in common is that once they are detected in an animal or a human, they will progress until they kill their host.
The prevailing opinion among virologists of what causes these diseases is divided between those who accept Dr. Stanley Prusiner’s Nobel-winning theory that particles called prions are responsible for the damage to victims’ brains in these diseases, and those who question the validity of Prusiner’s theory and research and ask whether a slow virus or another as yet unidentified cause (perhaps even a mineral crystal which might catalyze the conversion of the PrP protein from its normal form to the “bad” form found in the damaged areas of spongiform encephalopathy victims).
The Official Mad Cow Disease Web Site: This site has a lot of good data, papers, resources and links concerning "mad cow disease" and similar diseases such as scrapie, kuru, and the newly publicized "chronic wasting disease" which are caused by the same strange mechanisms as mad-cow disease. Very helpful to people who want to know what all the fuss is about in Britain, France, and Germany... and maybe here soon.
I plan to add additional resources on the older spongiform encephalopathies as I have time.