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Selected news in biology, evolution and emerging diseases in a global warming world: 2014-2018

When this page was created the Internet was not as pervasive as it is now. Over the years less and less news were commonly available, and selection of unexpected news trickled. The situation might have to reverse now because fake news are spreading faster than authentic information. For several years non-adevertised information about emerging diseases were scarce, and this explains why in contrast to previous years and following years we did not report much information here.

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arrow 7 august 2018. The east passage through the Arctic Ocean is now open
As every year now it is possible to go from Europe to Japan sailing across the north of Russia. The west passage, via northern Canada, however, is not open. arctic
arrow 14 june 2018. The dog flu virus H3N8 is mutating to novel strains, raising concern about likely spread to persons
For a long time, strains of the flu virus H3N8 used to spread in horses and dogs. These strains were not infecting man and there was not much concern about a new source of flu pandemics. The situation is changing however with dogs simultaneously infected by other human flu viruses. A scenario similar to those preceding H3N2 and H1N1 pandemics is more and more likely. Rather than being concerned by H5, H7 or H9 strains we should look into the fate of viruses infecting our pet animals.
arrow 28 may 2018. The letal Nipah virus is slowly gaining ground
Several species of fruit bats carry the virus — which was key to the movie Contagion — without being affected. Persons may be contaminated via handling and eating comestible fruits. More than 25 persons have been infected in India (state of Kerala), with at least 14 deaths.
arrow 26 may 2018. For some time a coronavirus is infecting pig farms in the USA
Back in 1984-1985 an epidemic of coronaviruses affected the gut of pigs, and subsequently shifted tropism to their lungs. This was a precursor of the SARS outbreak, with its route ascribed to an origin in bats, and then wild life meat consumption. A route from pigs to persons is common for flu, and the present epidemic should be closely monitored.
arrow 25 may 2018. The ninth time since 1976, the Ebola virus is raging again in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The epidemic began in Bikoro, near the border with Congo-Brazzaville. It is likely to spread in urban areas. A first case has been identified in the city of Mbandaka, with more than one million inhabitants. WHO has implemented an experimental Ebola vaccination campaign for high-risk populations.
arrow 20 april 2018. After a quiet time, epidemics return
Many viral diseases have an alarming rate of propagation. Lessons need to be learned from the past.
Two types of bird flu, H5N1 and H7N7 and N9 have long made the first page of many dailies. Yet it seems that despite bird to person contamination in case of close and long contact with infected animals, there has been no noticeable transmission from perdon to person. The lesson to be learned is probably that among the many influenza virus families, the types H1 and H3 are those to be feared, and that should therefore be monitored.
The situation of the MERS coronavirus is surprising, since it seems to have infected a large number of people in sub-Saharan Africa, with no noticeable effect. Some studies report llimited differences in the genome sequence, but one may wonder if there is no new "double epidemic" effect, as it may have happened in China during the SARS episode.
A new phlebovirus (SFTS) transmitted by ticks of the species Haemaphysalis flava discovered in Japan about ten years ago is now invading China, with a very high mortality rate (nearly 30%).
arrow 13 august 2017. The East Arctic sea route to Japan is open... and the West route is also
almost open.
arrow 17 july 2017. A canadian laboratory reconstructed the smallpox virus from scratch. Using commercially available gene fragments, a laboratory reconstructed a strain of the dangerous smallpox virus. We warned against this possibility almost 20 years ago, but Cassandra is always wrong.
arrow 5 may 2017. Yet another case of influenza strain H9N2. Accoring to WHO an eleven month baby was infected with this new virus, which, contrary to strain H7N9 seems to affect childre. The baby recovered.
arrow 9 april 2017. A human infection by the influenza virus H7N9 has been reported from Tibet. While the epidemic is slowly decreasing in most of China, a first infection is reported from the Tibet autonomous region.
arrow 20 march 2017. Nipah virus, almost twenty years. Back in 1998 a previously unrecognized paramyxovirus caused febrile encephalitic and respiratory illnesses among workers who had exposure to pigs in the city of Nipah in Malaysia. Dr. Chua Kaw Beng, professor at University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur packed the virus in his carry-on luggage and brought it to the CDC in Atlanta (USA), where the virus was identified a a completely new paramyxovirus. Pigs had got the virus from local bats, in a scenario which is quite often repeated: a first animal (bat, bird) is infected by a relatively mild virus, which is then spread to farm mammals (such as pig) and then, adapted to mammals, spread to man. We are witnessing a similar scenario with H7N9 flu, but, fortunately, the pig intermediate does not seem to be involved (yet), which means that the virus still remains relatively poorly adapted to the human host. However China now reported several clusters of the disease, and this may pave the way to direct person to person contamination.
arrow 21 february 2017. A more virulent mutant for birds has been found in influenza virus H7N9 . According to the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), a mutation of H7N9 bird flu strain is found in a Guangdong patient. Samples show genetic change but no sign of higher risk to man.Vaccination assays are underway.
arrow 15 february 2017. The influenza H7N9 flu keeps spreading in China . While the spread is slow it is steady. Several Chinese provinces closed poultry markets in the hope of taking the disease under control. According to the government health authorities, more than 20 people have already died from the disease across the China since the beginning of December 2016.
arrow 15 december 2016. Avian H7N9 flu becomes particularly worrying after Macao reports a human case. This triggered a warning from the WHO as it could start a pandemic.
arrow 4 november 2016. A new Candida sp fungus emerges as a dangerous pathogen . Candida infections are fairly frequent. They are a matter of concern for diabetic patients in particular (glucose is an excellent food source for this fungus). Unusual sites of infection were eyes and ears. Several new pathogenic strains appeared a few years ago in Asia. In India, in 2013 an antibiotic resistant clone of Candida auris appeared in hospitals, triggering surveillance. Since then the disease spread to Middle East, and a first outbreak has just reached a London cardio-thoracic center. The strain being multiresistant to antifungals, this is a matter of great concern.
arrow 27 june 2016. Genomics updates: a start . A "Genomics Updates" section is now placed under our responsability in the journal Microbial Biotechnology. A first analysis of the synthetic streamlined genome of Mycoplasma mycoides allowed us to identify a great many of functions deemed "unknown" in this genome.
arrow 2 april 2016. New cases of Ebola affect Liberia and Guinea. While the disease was absent for weeks it reappears. A further outbreak may affect Uganda. At this time the Zika virus keeps expanding with two imported cases in southern China.
arrow 1 march 2016. The zika virus may cause Guillain-Barré paralysis. Discovered one hundred years ago the Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune paralysis, often letal, that progressively destroys neuronal electric conduction. Its cause is not known but it has been observed that it begins usually after a mild infection of the patient a few weeks before the onset of the first symptoms. A first sign of this association was observed in december 2013.
arrow 14 february 2016. A possible case of Ebola imported in Vietnam. According to Xinhua news agency a photograph coming from Sierra Leone may have come back to Ho Chi Minh City carrying the Ebola virus.
arrow 3 february 2016. Is the zika virus sexually transmitted ? The zika virus is an arbovirus of the flavivirus family, known since 1947 (isolated from a Rhesus monkey in Ouganda). It is transmitted by mosquitoes of the genus Aedes. Isolated in man in the 1970s in Africa, it began migrating to the east, causing an outbreak in 2007 in the Pacific, then in 2013 in Polynesia. It recently reached South America, then Central America and the Caribbean. Cases are reported more and more to the north. Infected people are rarely sick, but it seems that when the virus reaches the fetus it leads to microcephaly, which makes its spread very worrying. A case has been diagnosed in Texas and it seems that the transmission could be sexual. We know that this route is a transmission mode (and a reservoir) for Ebola. If the information is confirmed then it is very worrying.
arrow 21 december 2015. An outbreak of Zika virus infection develops in Brazil.Zika virus, a member of the Flaviviridae, is an emerging arbovirus. It is spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Discovered in Uganda in 1947, it then spread to south-east Asia. Subsequently it spread to the Pacific, and reached South America last year, Brazil in particular, to reach Mexico last November 2015. The corresponding infection is similar to dengue fever, so that it was probably not diagnosed earlier. There now seems to be an apparent correlation with the onset of the outbreak and an epidemic of birth with infants affected by microcephaly.
arrow 8 september 2015. The Arctic western passage is now open to navigation. arctic_west15
This will be for a short time as the minimum extent of Artic ice is about to be reached. A strong el Niño is indeed building up in the Pacific this year.
arrow 28 july 2015. The Arctic eastern passage is open to navigation. arctic_east15
In the meantime it is expected that a strong el Niño will build up in the Pacific this year.
arrow 12 juin 2015. Authorities of South Korea are worrying about expansion of MERS coronavirus infection. Health authorities have now identified 122 patients still confined to a same hospital setting but there are significant chances that the disease could propagate outside.
arrow 21 may 2015. South Korea confirms three cases of MERS coronavirus infection. Health authorities place 64 other persons in isolation. The two latest cases have been found in people who were in contact with the first patient after he returned from the Middle East. This indicates person to person contamination, an important landmark in the spread of the disease.
arrow 26 april 2015. In a fairly calm background, a HIV alert in rural Indiana. Ebola is calming down seriously (but not yet terminated). MERS and H7N9 outbreaks are receding. But in the USA, in rural Indiana a serious outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C prompted the health authorities to launch an alert. This dangerous outbreak seems to result from needle sharing in a community of drug addicts.
arrow 15 february 2015. The MERS outbreak spreads to Asia. Back to the Philippines a nurse appears to have contaminated several persons with the MERS virus. The nurse’s fellow passengers on board the same plane have been located and have agreed to be tested for the virus. Person to person contagion remains limited; however the virus may evolve and the disease would then resemble SARS. Seasonal flu is more severe this year that last year, and H7N9 avian flu keeps developing in China. By contrast the Ebola epidemic is about to terminate.
arrow 17 january 2015. The Ebola epidemic is subsiding, but avian flu is creeping up in China. Two people died of the H7N9 strain of avian flu in Fujian province, where 15 cases have been confirmed since the beginning of the year. Another human infection was reported from Jiangxi. Cases of avian flu infection accelerated in China, with some 310 cases, and more than 132 deaths, diagnosed on the mainland last year.
arrow 29 december 2014. The avian flu alert is raised in Hong Kong. The Serious response level under the government's preparedness plan for influenza pandemic is activated, following hospitalization in critical condition of a patient coming from Shenzhen.
arrow 20 december 2014. New influenza viruses do not kill only humans. Seals have been victims of the H10N7 virus. The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management communicated that about 3,000 harbour seals have died in Swedish and Danish waters after probably being infected with the bird flu virus H10N7. The pace of the Ebola epidemic is slackening in West Africa. Outside of media consideration the Chikungunya epidemic passed the one million persons affected in central America.
arrow 14 november 2014. Patients infected by the MERS coronavirus escape from hospital. Several patients infected by the MERS coronavirus have fled hospital King Faisal in Taif, Saudi Arabia. This creates a very dangerous situation for creating an outbreak of the disease. Authorities are trying to trace back the patients.
arrow 22 october 2014. Ebola fever appears in all mass media, but MERS coronavirus and chikungunya continue to spread.A patient returning from the hajj has caused a hospital in Istanbul to close its emergency facilities because she was suspected to be infected by the MERS coronavirus. In the mean time chikungunya infections are about to reach one million patients in the Carribeans and it is beginning to spread on the continent.
arrow 28 august 2014. How royal jelly can induce the birth of queens. It is well known that in bee hives deprived of queens, workers begin to feed some larvae with the famous "royal jelly." These will give rise to queens, and the first among those will kill all its rivals before they hatch, and then focus on the multiplication of offspring for the hive. An Australian-Polish collaboration has just shown that this supply is sufficient for activating an enzyme which removes in the larval genome DNA a series of methyl groups. These DNA tags affect expression of the entire genome resulting in a stable epigenetic modification, differentiating the queen for the workers, where the methylation complement has not been affected.
arrow 20 august 2014. While Ebola fever keeps spreading it is interesting to see how chikungunya is invading America (and Europe). An epidemiological study describes how chikungunya, since its introduction in the Carribean islands in december 2013 keeps gaining ground in America.
arrow 7 august 2014. The Eastern passage between Europe and Asia is open in the Arctic Ocean. Arctic ice kept thawing rapidly (in contrast with the huge ice increase in Antarctica) and it is now free from ice from Europe to Asia via northern Russia.fonte
Several more suspect or confirmed cases of Ebola fever are registered in Nigeria.
arrow 5 august 2014. A second Ebola patient in Nigeria. The Health Authorities in Nigeria have exposed that a second case of Ebola in a doctor who treated a Liberian man who died of the disease last month in Lagos. Several further cases are under investigation.
arrow 2 august 2014. Ebola fever continues to spread. Despite the fact that it should be easy to contain Ebola fever, the disease continues to spread, in regions plagued by misinformation. This triggered an alarmed reaction from the WHO and the CDC, which provided advice for restraining travel in the affected regions.
arrow 21 july 2014. Update on emerging and re-emerging diseases. On July 16, a shepherd died of pneumonic plague in Gansu Province, China. The disease is endemic in marmots. Fortunately, it is not very contagious, but the pneumonic form remains very dangerous. The Ebola outbreak remains a concern: it can be controlled easily, but fear involves denial, and therefore its spread. It is rumored that the disease appeared in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The MERS Coronavirus is present Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (KSA) Emirates (UAE) and Yemen. The epidemic appears to have stalled. Various forms of influenza are as yet rather confined in the southern hemisphere, but the presence of the H7N9 virus is confirmed in a number of poultry markets in Eastern and Southern China. The epidemic due to the chikungunya virus spreads rapidly in the Caribbean, and it just reached America.
arrow 19 june 2014. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now the worse such epidemic that has been recorded. More than 500 cases have been reported, with a death toll of 337. While the Ebola virus is extremely dangerous, and essentially fatal, it is only contagious by direct contact. It is therefore unfortunate that the disease is still spreading in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
arrow 6 may 2014. Yet another flu virus: a man dies from infection by a H5N6 virus in Sichuan. Three types of bird flu - H7N9, H10N8 and H6N1 - infected humans for the first time last year, all in China. About one-fifth of the 419 cases of H7N9 infections were fatal.
arrow 18 april 2014. Ebola in West Africa and MERS in Arabia keep explanding. The new Ebola virus that developed in Guinea is a novel strain. Almost 200 persons have been infected, with 122 deaths. The MERS outbreaks also kept increasing. Flu season is ending in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is expected that the number of new H7N9 cases will decrease.
arrow 4 april 2014. Controversy between the WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières about the outbreak caused by virus Ebola in West Africa. Mass media report that, for some days, an outbreak of haemorrhagic fever caused by the Ebola virus is spreading for the first time in West Africa (Guinea, Liberia, and perhaps Mali). However the WHO reminds us that the disease spreads only via direct contacts, and that the present situation does not yet require a very high level of alert. It is essential to remind people with fever to refrain from having any physical contact with other unprotected persons.
arrow 26 february 2014. FluTrackers reports the details of the increasing number of H7N9 infections in China. As we suggested earlier, it is likely that camels were infected by the MERS coronavirus a long time ago. HK health authorities report that the H7N9 virus has evolved in recent cases, suggesting that it may adapt to humans.
arrow 13 february 2014. More than 300 cases of H7N9 flu have affected China, where a new H10N8 patient is declared. US authorities monitoring animal diseases are concerned by horse and pig coronaviruses.
arrow 26 january 2014. China reports a new case of H10N8 avian flu. The patient, a 55-years old woman from Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi, is in a critical condition, the provincial health and family planning department said in a statement.
arrow 24 january 2014. The chikungunya virus reaches the Carribean. Last month, the Caribbean island of St. Martin reported cases of the mosquito-borne viral illness chikungunya, generally spread around the Indian Ocean. Since then, the virus has spread to several other Caribbean islands, with approximately 500 cases. It is feared that the disease could spread to the continent, possibly via Porto Rico.
arrow 10 january 2014. A huge solar flare has reached the Earth. In conjunction with a coronal mass ejection, a powerful “X-class” solar flare centered over a giant sunspot erupted from the sun on Tuesday, sending radiation and particles speeding toward Earth and disrupting operations on the ground. Ten cases of H7N9 flu were recorded in Guangdong since august last year.
arrow 1 january 2014. A new botulism toxin. A new toxin has been discovered in Clostridium botulinum. Fortunately the molecular information about the gene have been kept confidential. Different strains of C. botulinum produce a variety of toxins causing faccid paralysis. A new study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases describes a novel toxin type, called BoNT/H, on the basis of sequence analysis and the absence of cross-neutralization with sera against the previously identified BoNT (botulinum neurotoxin) types.