Battling Biting Mosquitoes and Jumping Genes in 2016Posted on by
Last year, an expert from the CDC National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases (NCEZID) found himself in an unlikely position: guest starring on a popular Navajo language radio program to field questions about hantavirus infection. Hantavirus is caused by contact with mouse droppings and can sometimes be fatal.
This is just one example of how NCEZID has worked over the past year to confront a wide range of infectious disease concerns. From antibiotic resistance to Zika, last year’s threats required rapid and innovative responses, and CDC experts stepped up to the plate. Below are just a few of highlights from 2016.
Fighting the bite
In 2016, the mosquito was a major culprit. Zika virus became the first known mosquito-borne virus that can cause major birth defects, and we continue to learn about Zika virus every day. The Zika virus outbreaks in the Americas and other parts of the globe required a massive response, which is hands-down a top accomplishment for 2016. The consequences of Zika can be devastating, and stopping the epidemic has been anything but simple. It has involved expertise from many fields, including mosquito control, pregnancy and birth defects, laboratory, epidemiology, blood safety, communication, and the list goes on. NCEZID led that effort and, by the end of the year, more than 2,000 CDC staff members had been part of the Zika response.
Confronting an imminent threat
Imagine a post-antibiotic world where bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them. It’s a real threat, and many consider it the most concerning challenge to our country’s health. CDC has made the fight against antibiotic resistance a priority, and our transformative investments nationwide can be seen using the interactive AR Investment Map. This work includes establishing a new lab network in 2016 with expanded lab capacity in all 50 states.
Tackling illnesses caused by food
What do packaged salads and raw flour have in common? In 2016, both made dozens of people sick. For the first time, NCEZID experts conclusively showed that these foods were linked to specific bacteria that caused outbreaks. Whole genome sequencing helped connect the dots by showing that flour was the cause of an E. coli outbreak that made 60 people in 24 states sick, a third of whom were hospitalized. Some reported eating raw dough or raw batter. Whole genome sequencing also helped determine that an outbreak of listeriosis, which resulted in at least one death and 30 hospitalizations in the United States and Canada, was caused by eating packaged salads. As a result, the company that produced the salads recalled all brands produced at a single US facility.
Responding to rare infections
The jumping gene. A fungus that can cause bloodstream infections. A rare bacteria found in water. These are brief descriptions of three new or rarely seen emerging infectious threats that caused heightened concern in 2016. We worked to identify and contain the mcr-1 – or “jumping” – gene, which can make bacteria resistant to an antibiotic that is a last resort for some infections. A report by our experts also detailed the first US cases of Candida auris, an emerging fungus that is resistant to drugs and can cause serious – and sometimes deadly – blood infections. And, after the first cases of the rare Elizabethkingia infection were reported in Wisconsin, our scientists assisted the Wisconsin and Michigan state health laboratories in investigating the outbreak that would sicken almost 60 people and cause 20 deaths.
Assisting the response to hantavirus in Navajo Nation
When a young woman from Navajo Nation in western United States died from an uncommon respiratory infection in early 2016, CDC experts stepped in to help. The problem was hantavirus which is spread by deer mice and causes a serious, sometimes lethal, respiratory infection. NCEZID experts worked with Navajo leaders to share information about hantavirus and create messages on preventing infection, including messages broadcast on a popular Navajo language radio station.
For more on the top infectious threats of 2016 and how we confronted them, please see the NCEZID 2016 Accomplishments.