Lessons for Ebola, from 3 years of water source mapping & monitoring in the African continent

Ebola 2014 — The current Ebola epidemic in West Africa which was first noted in the spring of this year began quietly but has now escalated to include five countries (Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone) and an estimated 3707 suspected/confirmed cases with 1848 deaths (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Ebola Page, August 31st, 2014). The WHO declared this Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on August 8, 2014 (WHO on Ebola Virus Disease). Despite this declaration, the new Ebola cases continue. Recently the Rt value for this epidemic was reported to be greater than 1 and less than 2 (R>1 and R<2) (Nishiura H. and Chowell G. Eurosurveillance 2014). These numbers soberly reminds us that the number of Ebola cases are not slowing down but are in fact growing which, appeals for immediate and urgent action to reduce and cease Ebola transmission. This plea has been echoed by prominent virologist and infectious disease experts, Richard E. Besse, Michael T Osterholm and “Science Magazine.”

To aid in this global problem, Annie Feighery, an expert in using technology to improve public health, describes lessons she has learned from her work in West Africa with mWater, a mobile water sanitation tracking system, and how these lessons can be applied to the current Ebola situation.

Alyson

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Lessons for Ebola, from 3 years of water source mapping & monitoring in the African continent

by Annie Feighery

The West Africa Ebola outbreak has been said to be the World’s Katrina. This means we are witnessing one of our lifetimes’ worst tragedies which is largely due to the significant gaps in the local health infrastructure. Many of the stressors in what is now the worst Ebola outbreak on record are not directly Ebola-related, but rather legacy problems from generations of broken health systems. For years, the water and sanitation field has worked under very similar conditions in West Africa and learned valuable lessons about frontline health monitoring which we believe can be applied to the Ebola Response. Here we recount lessons learned on Report Systems, Checklists and Public Engagement from our work through mWater in West Africa that may be fundamental to Ebola reporting and management.

In 2011, I co-founded the organization mWater to develop technology to help communities and individuals have access to safe water by harnessing the power of smartphone technology. Our first partners were UN Habitat, the City of Mwanza, Tanzania, and the local water utility in Mwanza. It wasn’t as simple as mapping, though. By creating a unique ID number for water sources, we were able to attach information to a source that could be updated over time. In the case of water, we mapped whether the source was functioning and we used a cheap but highly effective field test to update whether it was contaminated with E. coli, an indicator bacteria for more dangerous contaminants.

Since then, we’ve expanded our application to map sanitation facilities, schools, health clinics, communities, and households. Each is a different type of site that can have a broad range of data associated with it, and that data can be updated over time with mWater surveys. The result is an infrastructure that allows data-driven policies and improved municipal management. Most important, thanks to continued investment in mWater from USAID, Water.org, WaterAid, and The Water Trust, we can now offer this service to any community or organization for free, via the mWater app and online portal. What started in Mwanza has grown to more than 2000 free and independent users in 54 countries and 7 countries where large organizations contract our services for specific projects. Our user base includes communities, governments, utilities, scientists, and organizations who build infrastructure by mapping and monitoring sites, conducting M&E surveys, and deploying health worker checklists on mobile phones and tablets.

We have learned critical lessons about how the approach of monitoring water sources over time can also be helpful in addressing major public health issues. Currently, the biggest health emergency on our planet is the West African Ebola outbreak. Our technology can help. Our team is working around the clock to leverage our software for emergency response, mapping, and monitoring of this Ebola outbreak. But our biggest contribution may be our lessons learned about digital epidemiology.

Listed below are three lessons on Report Systems, Checklists, and Public Engagement which we think encompass the critical knowledge gained over our past three years that could increase the situational awareness and health capacity for the Ebola health crisis.14986886991_799e7067e1_m

Report symptoms Frontline community health workers are the best way to gather information in developing countries. For Ebola-stricken countries, the military is also being deployed as frontline health workers, conducting temperature checks and enforcing quarantines. We found that data from health workers is more accurate when health workers are asked to report symptoms rather than conduct the diagnosis themselves. A diagnosis needs local context. For example, we asked 35 health care providers throughout Mwanza to define the symptoms of diarrhea. We received a range of 18 answers including red eyes, weakness, and fever. The WHO definition of three or more loose stools in a day was only the fourth most frequent response. This is likely because many individuals in this region go their whole lifetimes without a solid stool. A loose stool in this context is not a relevant symptom. However, a case that the health worker finds significant enough to report with a list of symptoms the health worker can tick off in checked boxes makes the data actionable, regardless of the accuracy of the diagnosis.

We are using this lesson for Ebola with our own launched platform for symptom reporting. Within five seconds, frontline health workers can press their finger on a map to indicate location, automatically filing a report to the cloud-based management dashboard. The app works on and offline, which is important in low-resource regions that can have sparse connectivity. If they have time, users can provide more detailed information on symptoms with tick-checked boxes. Previous digital epidemiology attempts have attempted to focus on reports from doctors and other official sources, limiting information to a slow but steady stream from experts. The lesson with crowd-sourced data is that the validity of the data increases with the “n”, the number of reports, as opposed to traditional studies that increase validity with source quality. We are doing everything we can to increase reports, including eliminating barriers such as literacy and time expectations. We are focusing on the point of data being at the biggest interface with the community, the frontline.

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Follow checklists Frontline health workers have a lot of information to remember, from diverse fields such as public health, sanitation, and community development. One very simple innovation that has been shown to dramatically reduce complications in hospitals is the use of checklists. We work to apply this same concept to community health workers, who provide the frontline health information interface for communities in developing countries. Mobile technology can help ensure that best practices make it all the way through the last mile and into the frontlines.

We can already use our Surveyor platform to deliver a checklist to smartphones, allowing us to add questions or steps that are automatically pushed to health workers and monitor whether they are using the tools provided. Real time data gathered in a cloud-based database can use checklist results from one survey to trigger another enumerator’s questions. Symptoms queried can be adapted in real time, based on growing situational awareness. All data in checklists can be quickly monitored as indicators in the Portal, a management website that deploys surveys, collects their responses in real time, and allows users to download their data as CSV forms.

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Listen to the public. In a large survey of the population in Mwanza, we found that water scarcity was a bigger concern for them than water contamination. As a public health scientist, I know this is due to a survivor’s bias, where only people who survived the age of five and have the gut flora needed to survive high levels of fecal contamination are around to tell their neighbors, their family, or me about what they are worried about. I know epidemiologically that waterborne disease is the second biggest cause of infant mortality on the globe and an indicator for the other big threats to child well-being, namely lung infection and malnutrition. But I have learned that also meeting the self-assessed needs of a community is a critical must to any policy.

In water, focusing on self-assessed needs allowed the city to make a policy decision based on digital epidemiology with local buy-in. We mated the need of water scarcity with the health policy need of protecting water supply by providing more and safer water sources. Our data motivated the city to stop supporting any further construction of shallow wells, which were found to be frequently contaminated, instead approving boreholes and piped kiosks and taps for their own expansion and NGO donations.

Translating this lesson to Ebola, the communities affected are rarely hit with Ebola itself, but instead are regularly hit with diarrhea and lung infection and they have a chronic shortage of medical staff to treat those illnesses. The targeted response to Ebola while these more common life-threatening conditions go under-treated has caused distrust between communities and the emergency agencies. Taking the self-assessed need as a critical priority would mean we should also provide resources for lung infection, diarrhea, and other local health priorities alongside our effort to provide resources and expertise for Ebola.

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Annie Feighery is a digital epidemiologist based in New York City and the CEO of mWater, a non-profit tech start-up that develops innovations for water, sanitation and health. The organization provides free and open access platforms for mapping and monitoring infrastructure, for deploying mobile surveys and for real time visualizations of health data. For more information, visit www.mWater.Co and follow @mWaterCo on Twitter. To use mWater’s free Ebola monitoring platform, visit Ebola.BroadSt.org.

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Avian Influenza A(H7N9) Perspectives in JIDC: Immune Status, The Elderly and Pandemics. by Stephen Huang

On 31 March 31 2013, the Chinese National Health and Family Planning Commission officially announced the emergence of novel avian influenza A(H7N9) virus infection in humans.  This virus has now caused disease in 108 people (as of 23 April 23), including severe cases and mortality.  Although the virus has not been shown to transmit from human-to-human, avian influenza A(H7N9) virus poses a pandemic threat in the human population due to the lack of pre-existing immunity and its high fatality rate, should human-to-human transmission occur.

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Figure 2 from Guan et al., 2013: Typical wet market in China showing staked cages of chickens, ducks and pigeons

In this issue of JIDC, Yi and colleagues of the International Institute of Infection and Immunity, Shantou University Medical College, Shantou, Guangdong, China, published a manuscript reporting a possible route via the mixed poultry-mammals  environment in the Chinese live markets as the source of avian influenza A(H7N9) virus human infections.

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Figure 3 from Guan et al., 2013: Typical wet market in China showing close proximity of multiple species including rabbits

Furthermore, based on the predominant number of severe cases in the elderly, the paper also puts forth the elderly population as at high risk for avian influenza A(H7N9) virus H7N9 human disease.

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Figure 5 from Guan et al., 2013: Number of nrH7N9 human cases per age group in
China as of April 15

The manuscript describes the lack of knowledge in designing effective H7N9 vaccines and immune surveillance, as well as lack of understanding in the disease’s pathogenesis, especially in the high-risk group.  This issue requires immediate attention for assessing a possible new pandemic outbreak.  The article can be found under this link: http://www.jidc.org/index.php/journal/article/view/23592638.

Stephen Huang

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Filed under China, Countries, Environmental Issues, Infectious Disease, Influenza, Outbreaks

Climate Change, Perspectives from Nepal

As a molecular biologist, my mind is frequently focused highly at the microscopic level.   I rarely consider the impact of large-scale environmental or cultural events on the very small molecules or microorganisms which coexist along side us.  Since reading Influence of environmental factors on the presence of Vibrio cholerae in the marine environment: a climate link, I now have an appreciation for the link between infectious diseases and the ecosystem; that is, how the visible affects the invisible or will eventually affect the visible.

 

The interaction between the weather and infectious disease status is an important area of research.  Many examples throughout history show how weather pattern changes and natural disasters lead to catastrophic disease outbreaks.  One recent example is the current outbreak of chloera in Haiti which occurred following the earthquake of 2010 (Kelvin AA JIDC 2011).  The earthquake, which devastated the country’s already weak water sanitization system, created a habitable environment for the colonization of the Cholera bacterium and facilitated the spread of the disease.  Perhaps my favorite article which reviews the interaction between climate change/weather and infectious disease outbreaks is an article by V. Sedas.  In this article, Sedas reviews how environmental factors have significant influence on the outbreak potential and pathogenesis of V. cholerae and other disease causing agents (Seda VT JIDC 2007).  As the fecal-oral transmission route of V. cholera relies heavily on the ecology of the native water supply, seasonal water cycles have been shown to affect the emergence and re-emergence of V. cholerae, thereby affecting the health of local populations (Seda VT JIDC 2007).  This article I highly recommend reading.

In this JIDC Postcard, Yadav Prasad Joshi reflects on how anthropocentric climate change is influencing health, lifestyle and ecosystems globally.  Yadav Prasad Joshi is a PhD student from Nepal and his post provides an invaluable perspective on climate change.

Alyson

Climate Change, Perspectives from Nepal

Have you ever thought about what might be considered the worst event to affect this planet? From wars to terrorism to nuclear emissions, the list is long, but few people would point out the events of climate change. Tsunamis, floods, heat waves, glacial melting and threats to biodiversity are all disasters that affect not only the people in the regions experiencing them, but everyone worldwide.

Weather and climate play a significant role in people’s health. Changes in climate affect average weather conditions. Warmer average temperatures will likely lead to hotter days and more frequent and longer heat waves, which could increase the number of heat related illnesses and deaths. Increases in the frequency or severity of extreme weather events such as storms could accelerate the risk of dangerous flooding, high winds, and other direct threats to people and property. Warmer temperatures could increase the concentrations of unhealthy air and water pollutants. Changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and extreme events could enhance the spread of some diseases.

Global climate change has become one of the most visible environmental concerns (Bioterrorism) of the 21st century.  Climate change has brought about severe and possibly permanent alterations to our planet’s geological, biological and ecological systems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now contends that “there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities”.1 These changes have led to the emergence of large-scale environmental hazards to human health, such as ozone depletion, the greenhouse effect, acid rain, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems and the global spread of infectious diseases.1,2 The World Health Organization(WHO) estimates that 160,000 deaths, since 1950, are directly attributable to climate change.3

During the last 100 years, human activities related to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and agriculture have led to a 35% increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere, causing increased trapping of heat and warming of the earth’s atmosphere. Eleven of the last 12 years (1995-2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature. The IPCC reports that the global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 mm per year from 1961 to 2003. The total rise in the sea level during the 20th century was estimated to be 0.17 metres and projected increase in temperature range is 1.8oC to 4.0oC by the end of this century .1,4

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These IPCC reports changes point to the drastic effects that climate change could have onlife in tropical counties and islands such as Vietnam, Mongolia, Laos, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Micronesia, and Tonga among others. Some of these Islands are only two to three metres above sea level and by viewing this trend of climate change, it is very difficult to predict the future of these countries.  The most common observed phenomena are increasing sea level, acidification, alteration in weather conditions, droughts, cyclones, extreme ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) and EI Nino effects, etc.

Climate change has dramatically and negatively affected human health in the form of increased  burden of diseases of all types, in particular vector-borne illnesses such as dengue and malaria. Changes in climate increase the temperature, which in turn accelerates the multiplication of vectors by breeding, causes droughts which kill crops in some areas or floods which cause cholera in others, thus contributing either directly or indirectly to other diseases such as malnutrition and water-borne, air-borne, and food-borne diseases.

Slide3

Climate change associated with increasingly frequent and severe weather events and causes extensive infrastructure damage, economic slowdown, and interruptions of medical and psychiatric care, all which are likely to affect mental health in several ways. These events, and the lifestyle changes that can result, are associated with increased mental health burdens.5

Basically, there are two ways to  contend with climate change: adaptation and mitigation. The former is as a short-term solution that addresses only how to protect ourselves from adverse condition, whereas the latter is  a long-term process. Therefore, both should run simultaneously. Research area in the sectors of climate change should be highly prioritized and awareness program should be initiated from local levels. For all these activities, governments of all nations should responsible, and develop and implement proper national action plans for climate change.

Who is responsible for these overall hazardous conditions caused by climate change? The answer is human beings. Now the time has come to protect our lovely earth and to think about what we are leaving for our future generations. It is not the time to look for blame for problems such as increasing CO2 concentrations, clear-cutting of the forests and so on. t This is the time  for  all nations and human beings to unite with integrity to save the earth and protect the earth for our progeny.

It is my hope that every human will commit to protecting our planet from changing climate and its disastrous effects on human health.

More opinions in this context are highly welcomed. For further information, please contact the author at yadavjoshi@gmail.com

References

  1. McMichael AJ (2003) Global Climate Change and Health: An Old Story Writ Large. A. J. McMichael et al. editors. World Health Organization Geneva. 1-17.
  2. Sahney, S, Benton MJ, Ferry PA (2010) Links between the global taxonomic diversity and expansion of vertebrates on the land, Biology letters 6: 544-547. Available at: http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/6/4/544.full.
  3. McMichael AJ, Woodruff R, Hales S (2006) Climate change and human health: Present and future risks. Lancet  367: 859-869.

4. Climate change and health in Cambodia (2008) A vulnerability and adaptation assessment, WHO/MoH.

5. Roth P ( 2010) Climate change and health: mental health effects, News and views on climate, public health and environment. Available at: http://climatechangehealth.com/tag/ptsd. Accessed on: 1 March 2010.

Slide1Mr. Yadav Prasad Joshi is Nepalese and graduated from Tribhuvan University, Nepal, in Zoology and Psychology. He is extremely interested in infectious diseases and climate change. He joined the JIDC in 2007 as a Reviewer and Editorial Board member in 2012. Mr. Yadav Prasad Joshi has more than 10 years’ teaching experience in biological science to college, university, and medical students. He  participates equally in research activities, seminars, and book writing.  He has done research in tuberculosis, malaria, and many other public health issues.

Currently, he is a PhD student at Sungkyunkwan University, South Korea, in the department of Social and Preventative Medicine. His research topic is climate change and health.

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Filed under Cholera, Countries, Environmental Issues, Environmental Postcard, Infectious Disease, Nepal, Postcards

Marie Anne and the WHO investigate Cholera in Sierra Leone

I believe accurate reporting of infectious diseases, including diarrhoeal diseases, to be a significant issue of consideration in both developed and developing nations.  Accurate reporting by the individual, as well as by medical and government institutions, is imperative for analysis of infectious disease epidemiology. With accurate reporting, especially of cholera cases and cholera typing, appropriate therapeutic and preventative measures can be put in place. 

Here, Marie Anne Chattaway, a microbiologist from the UK, describes her experiences working with the WHO in Sierra Leone establishing an Enteric Bacteria Laboratory in Sierra Leone.  Their goal was to aid cholera diagnosis and reporting in this region.  I can’t thank Marie Anne (marie.chattaway@hpa.org.uk) enough for sharing her project.  I wish her and the taskforce every success in the future.

Thank you to Marie Anne, WHO and Sierra Leone.      

Alyson

Marie Anne and Cholera in Sierra Leone

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Picture 1: Map of Sierra Leone

I first became interested in developing countries when I started to volunteer for JIDC (The Journal of Infection in Developing Countries) a couple of years ago as a scientific editor and reviewer where the focus was mentoring scientists to publish their research in a scientific journal. I have been working with enteric pathogens for over five years at the Health Protection Agency of the UK and now realise just how much of an impact bacterial enteric infection has in developing countries. Until now, I had only managed to help from the UK, but the outbreak in Sierra Leone provided me with an opportunity to really use my microbiological skills where it was needed the most.

Cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone (Picture 1) has recently battled its worst cholera outbreak in 15 years. In

Picture 2: Crowded housing at risk of cholera

Picture 2: Crowded housing at risk of cholera

July and August 2012, the epidemic rapidly spread to all but one of Sierra Leone’s 13 districts. With a combination of crowded housing (Picture 2), unsafe water supplies, poor sanitation and the rainy season ahead, intervention was paramount. On 16 August 2012, the Sierra Leone government declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency, and established the Presidential Taskforce on Cholera. As of 2 October 2012, there had been 20,736 cases, including 280 deaths (case fatality rate or CFR=1.35%). The western area of the country where the capital city of Freetown is located was the most affected area with more than 50% of total cases. Initial training and some supplies were provided to the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL), Lakka and Connaught Hospital, in Freetown by the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B).  The Global Outbreak Alert Response Network (GOARN) later requested a microbiologist to further evaluate laboratory facilities and provide technical advice and assistance to strengthen laboratory services for detection of cholera cases, capacity for confirmation by laboratory identification and for conducting differential diagnosis for main enteric pathogens (e.g., Vibrio cholera, Shigella, Salmonella, E. coli). The Health Protection Agency (HPA), UK, sent a microbiologist from the Gastrointestinal Bacteria Reference Unit (GBRU) to undertake this task from 10 October to 8 November 2012.

Travel to Freetown

The HPA was already involved with the cholera outbreak with a focus on epidemiology and case management; Sarika Desai and William Welfare from the HPA had already been deployed as WHO consultants. The specific request for a microbiologist to go to Sierra Leone for the month came later and though I had volunteered to go, in the end I had only 24 hours’ notice that I was on the flight the next day and that urgent supplies were needed. Needless to say, my two large suitcases were filled with consumables as well as clothes, a ridiculous amount of a range of pharmaceutical products (which I did end up using – unfortunately), and insect repellent (the insects still got me, though). I’m not sure what part of the journey was the worst: the bad turbulence on the plane with the woman behind me screaming; the small speedboat trip across the sea in the pitch black;  the jolting of the spine across the dirt tracks in the jeep;, or the sickness on arriving when adapting to the humidity and heat (as you know, we English are used to the cold). Either way, I did make it in one piece and was so happy that I didn’t crash in the plane and impressed by the stunning views (Picture 3) that actually I didn’t mind the bumpy roads.

Picture 3: One of the many stunning views in Freetown

Picture 3: One of the many stunning views in Freetown

Assessment of the laboratory

I was fortunate that there was a dedicated laboratory which had been selected to develop testing based at the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL) in Lakka. It was an hour away from the WHO office. Prior to intervention the department was faced with challenges of the lack of supplies, shortage of available trained staff, poor processing systems, and inadequate Health and Safety protocols in the enteric bacteria section of the CPHRL. The icddr-b had done a fantastic emergency response but further work was now required to establish and maintain an enteric bacteria laboratory in Sierra Leone.

Establishing an Enteric Bacteria Laboratory in Sierra Leone

Before training could even begin, a supplies stock system with the support of the WHO, HPA, CDC and Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) was set up to receive the required equipment and supplies. Molly Freemen from the Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch of the CDC joined me for 11 days and the collaboration of all these organisations enabled the success of this mission. Intense training of multiple staff was necessary to maintain function after I left and the staff worked incredibly hard, even coming in at weekends and public holidays. A quality accredited process was set up, including the design of request forms for necessary information, the development of protocols for taking samples, receiving and logging the samples into CPHRL, and testing and recording results on the enteric result database for reporting (Picture 4). A surveillance link was also set up

Picture 4: Left to Right: Musu Abu entering laboratory results with Marie Anne Chattaway

Picture 4: Left to Right: Musu Abu entering laboratory results with Marie Anne Chattaway

so that regular weekly reporting of confirmed enteric pathogens is fed back. The two weeks of practical (Picture 5) and theoretical training was followed by intense three-day theory and practical competency testing. Staff were then certificated in “Isolation and identification of Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella typhi, non-typhoida, lSalmonella, Shigella sp. and E. coli O157” and “Health and Safety and Quality Systems in the enteric bacteria laboratory” (Picture 6).

Picture 6: Left to Right: Musu Abu, Fay Rhodes and Marie Anne Chattaway in Enteric Bacteriology, Quality and Health & Safety training

Picture 5: Left to Right: Musu Abu, Fay Rhodes and Marie Anne Chattaway in Enteric Bacteriology, Quality and Health & Safety training

Challenges and future Work

To sustain the new laboratory service, there is still much work to be done.  The supply system must be managed to ensure stock is available when needed.  Regular testing at the laboratory and reporting of results are essential for monitoring the cholera situation in the country. The biggest challenge will be the organisation and implementation of regular sample collection and transport to CPHRL.  Without regular samples from the districts, the testing competency and surveillance cannot be maintained. The impact of this part of the international response has been considerable; there is now a system for detecting and confirming cholera and other enteric pathogens within Sierra Leone.  If this laboratory component of surveillance is sustained it will lead to a better understanding of the incidence of cholera in the country and provide earlier recognition should the infection become epidemic again, thus enabling a rapid response.

Picture 6: Left to Right: Molly Freeman, Ahmed Foray Samba, Musu Abu, Slyvester Kamanda, Dr Abdual Kamara, Fay Rhodes and Marie Anne Chattaway. Other staff who participated and not in this photo include Eric Sefoi and Doris Harding.

Picture 6: Left to Right: Molly Freeman, Ahmed Foray Samba, Musu Abu, Slyvester Kamanda, Dr Abdual Kamara, Fay Rhodes and Marie Anne Chattaway. Other staff who participated and not in this photo include Eric Sefoi and Doris Harding.

Would I recommend this experience

Absolutely! It was an amazing experience, from networking and collaborating on an international scale with the most amazing and interesting people to experiencing the culture. I felt a real sense of achievement seeing how I can personally make a difference. It is hard work, working long hours with little breaks in sometimes difficult conditions, but the end result was worth any hardship. My favourite challenge was when I first opened the incubator to find lots of small ants favouring the Trypticase Soy agarplates. At first I didn’t think much of it, but when I looked at the plates carefully I saw tiny ant footsteps left by the insects that had walked on a cholera plate just after it had been inoculated. The ants had walked across the plate, dragging the bacteria with it (Picture 7). It is possible that perhaps there is a vector influence with the spread of some diseases that we wouldn’t normally consider!

By Marie Anne Chattaway

**Pictures taken by Marie Anne Chattaway, HPA.

Picture 8: Ant trail spreading cholera on a Trypticase Soy Agar plate (see line from top of plate to the bottom across the middle).

Picture 7: Ant trail spreading cholera on a Trypticase Soy Agar plate (see line from top of plate to the bottom across the middle).

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Filed under Countries, Infectious Disease, Postcards, Sierra Leone, Vibrio cholera

Introducing DR. Ana Carolina Ritter, PhD! Moving from PhD student to Post Doctoral Fellow

So you can’t wait to finish your PhD.  The years have been slowly slugging by.  It seems you have been at it for eternity…  And then BAM!!! You are done.  It seems it has come all at once.  So what comes next? What comes after the PhD is completed?  And importantly, now that you have finished (which is what you have been waiting for), it may be hard to know how to move on or what to do next.  I HAVE BEEN THERE. And so has Ana Carolina.

Ana last wrote of her interesting PhD research on Salmonella, telling us how she was able to study and conduct her lab work in both Italy and in her native Brazil.  Now Ana updates us with her exciting news that she has received her PhD.  She also shares how she navigated the difficult road from PhD to landing a postdoctoral fellowship in Bologna, Italy.

Good Luck Ana!

Alyson

Italy, I’m coming!

Hello! Good news, I’m going back to Italy … To do the postdoctoral research, this time in Bologna!

In my last blog post, I wrote a little bit about my experience completing part of my PhD at the University of Sassari… Since then, I have completed my PhD and the desire to return to Italy increased!

AnaPhD Talk

Ana’s PhD Seminar in Brazil

Therefore, while completing my doctorate, I sought out a group conducting strong research in food microbiology in Italy to do my postdoctoral research. After searching through PubMed, I found some papers published by the group led by Professor Maria Elisabetta Guerzoni.  I was very interested in the research they perform at the University of Bologna, more precisely in the Distal.  I contacted Professor Guerzoni and we were extremely well matched.

Upon receipt of her acceptance, I applied for a scholarship from a Brazilian funding agency for research, called “National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development” (CNPq)1.  I outlined a project where I proposed working with new technology for disinfection of food, called Gas plasma2.  In late September I received a positive response from the Brazilian government, and will embark for Bologna in January 2013! Very cool huh?

Currently, it is exciting times for research in Brazil as the government is supporting researchers in bringing new technologies to Brazil by funding global travel for scientific education.  This initiative supports the development of competent professionals, through the granting of many scholarships to enable researchers to study in top universities worldwide.

I’m very excited as I am going through a new experience both in my personal life and academic life. And I hope that this partnership with the University of Bologna allows me to publish work as was the case happened with the University of Sassari3… And of course, I’ll be closer the Central Office of JIDC and old friends.

See you!

1: http://www.cienciasemfronteiras.gov.br/web/csf-eng/

2: Ragni, A., Berardinelli,A.,, Vannini, L., Montanari, C, Sirri, F., Guerzoni, M.B., Guarnieri, A. Non-thermal atmospheric gas plasma device for surface decontamination of shell eggs. Journal of Food Engineering 100 (2010) 125–132.

3: Ritter, A. C., Bacciu, D., Santi, L., Silva, W.O.B, Vainstein, M. H., Rubino, S., Uzzau, S., Tondo,E.C. Investigation of rpoS and dps genes in Sodium Hypochlorite Resistance of Salmonella Enteritidis SE86 Isolated from Foodborne Illness Outbreaks in Southern Brazil. Journal of Food Protection. Journal of Food Protection. , v.75, p.437 – 442, 2012.

AnaPhDParty

Ana’s PhD Graduation Celebration

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Filed under Brazil, Countries, Infectious Disease, Postcards, Salmonella

Bet you can’t guess my Halloween Costume

Well, I realized I was developing  quite a reputation for myself when a friend emailed me a couple of days ago.  Her email read something to this effect:

“Alyson, I have the perfect Halloween costume for you….You could be an Immuno-GOBLIN!”

Haha…yes I loooved this idea, Antibodies on a Monster!  So, I decided, yes, I do need a Science Halloween Costume this year.  I was a MAD SCIENTIST for Halloween when I was 11, and it’s time to bust out the Science for Halloween again.

So guess what I am…

If you said a CD4+ T cell you’d be wrong.

There are 4 more CDs on the back…I am a CD8+ T cell.

Anybody else got a good one for Halloween this year?

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Thank-Science-Giving: The Nobel Prize, Science Now and Science Future

Picture from http://funmike.com/

Every year in early October the Nobel Prize winners are announced.  For those of us in Canada, this coincides with our Canadian Thanksgiving, which is celebrated the second Monday in October every year.

Call me a NERD but to me this is an appropriate pairing:  Thanksgiving — a time to reflect on what we have in our lives — and the Nobel Prize – a time to reflect on a person’s lifetime of achievement.  Importantly, the contributions of the named Nobel Laureates have often have had an enormous impact on scientific methodology, scientific theory and/or the quality of health and life in general.  For instance, this includes recognition for the discovery of HIV (2008), development of the gene silencing (2006), and discovery of protein ubiquitination (2004).  And where would we be without PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction)?  The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Kary Mullia and Michael Smith in 1993 for their discovery and work on PCR.

The achievements recognized in this year’s awards resonate through many aspects of our lives, from the optimism for the possibilities offered by therapeutic stem cells to the stabilization of the global economy.  Hopefully the dividends from these discoveries will be evident in the years to come.

If you knew me during the first couple of years of my PhD, then you heard me talk endlessly about Robert Lefkowitz and the biology of the trimeric G-protein protein couple receptors (GPCR) chemokine receptors.  I am sure all of Queen’s University heard my ramblings — I was GPCR OBSESSED.  Without Dr. Lefkowitz’s work, I probably would not have a PhD today, and for his work on GPCRs I am grateful.  Specifically Dr. Lefkowitz has made a significant impact on the field of drug development by elucidating the signalling, activation and desensitization of GPCRs which has been applied for the treatment of conditions such as ulcers and hypertension.  Therefore, I was super pumped to hear of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year going to Dr. Lefkowitz and Brain K. Kobilka”for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors“. 

The announcement for the Chemistry Nobel Prize on GPCRs got me thinking, “Who will win next year?  What researcher, technology or development has impacted the other areas of my scientific career or science and society in general significantly enough to be deserving of the NEXT Nobel Prize?”

I believe a new tone has been set for global science and health care. Specifically, the work by  Grand Challenges Canada is leading the way for global scientific development.  Their platform encompasses the utilization of scientific innovation to improve health care and build scientific discovery in low-income countries.  Grand Challenges Canada has received global attention by Scientific and Global Health Organizations including the prestigious scientific publication Nature, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and USAID.  Grand Challenges Canada has implemented programs for solving health-care challenges through the following in initiatives:  Stars in Global Health, Saving Lives at Birth, Saving Brains, and Global Mental Health.  Importantly, the Stars in Global Health programme supports collaborations between Canada and lower income countries  for the development of scientific innovations for resolving global health challenges.  Essentially, its aim is to utilize scientific discovery to directly improve the health problems in lower income countries. I believe that the work being conducted requires both scientific and health-care novelty and knowledge and will have a significant global impact.  To me, I can’t think of anything more fabulous than using science, scientific initiatives and global collaborations to directly solve world issues and I feel these efforts should be recognized.

Now I ask YOU.  What researcher or what technology do you see as deserving of a Nobel Prize?  Or what innovation do you see as having a significant impact on science or society in the next 10 years?  What Scientific Discovery are you personally thankful for? I would love to know your thoughts…

Alyson

This year the awards were as follows:

My Post on The Book The Grandest Challenge by Dr. Abdallah S. Daar and Dr. Peter A. Singer can be read here

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