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Two New Ways To Prevent Cholera: Microbes Fighting Microbes

The research has so far only been done in animals

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A woman draws water from an unprotected well in Chigwirizano, a peri-urban area hit by a Cholera outbreak in Malawi.
A woman draws water from an unprotected well in Chigwirizano, a peri-urban area hit by a Cholera outbreak in Malawi. VOA
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Two promising new ways to prevent cholera are on the horizon. One is an entirely new kind of vaccine. The other is as simple as a cup of yogurt.

Both may offer fast, cheap protection from explosive outbreaks of a disease that claims tens of thousands of lives each year.

The research has so far only been done in animals. Human studies are yet to come.

Cholera declawed

Cholera causes such serious diarrhea that it can kill within hours. Current vaccines take at least 10 days to work, don’t provide complete protection and don’t work well for young children.

One group of scientists working to create a better vaccine engineered cholera bacteria that are missing the genes that make the microbe toxic.

The researchers fed the modified bacteria to rabbits. The microbes colonized the animals’ guts but did not make them sick.

When the scientists then fed rabbits normal, disease-causing cholera 24 hours later, most of the animals survived.

Those that did get sick took longer to do so than rabbits given unmodified bacteria, or modified bacteria that had been killed. Those animals died within hours.

Doctors Giving vaccines
Doctors Giving vaccines, Pixabay

The engineered cholera bacteria provided protection much faster than a conventional vaccine. They acted as a probiotic: colonized the animals’ intestines in less than a day and prevented the disease-causing microbes from getting a foothold.

The researchers expect that the modified bacteria will also act like a typical vaccine, stimulating the body’s immune system to fight a future cholera infection.

“This is a new type of therapy,” Harvard University Medical School microbiologist Matthew Waldor said. “It’s both a probiotic and a vaccine. We don’t know the right name for it yet.”

The research is published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.

Yogurt solution

In another study in the same journal, a group of researchers discovered that a microbe commonly found in yogurt, cheese and other fermented dairy products can prevent cholera infection.

Bioengineer Jim Collins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues had been working on genetically modifying the bacteria, known as Lactococcus lactis, to treat cholera.

It hadn’t been working.

But they accidentally discovered that unmodified L. lactis keeps cholera germs in check by producing acid that the disease-causing microbes can’t tolerate.

Feeding mice doses of L. lactis bacteria every 10 hours nearly doubled their survival rate from cholera infection.

“It was remarkably surprising and satisfying,” Colllins said. “We were really getting frustrated.”

They also designed a strain of L. lactis that turns a cholera-infected mouse’s stool red. It could be a useful diagnostic, for example, to identify those carrying the bacteria but not showing symptoms.

Collins said pills of L. lactis bacteria — or simply ample supplies of fermented milk products — could be “a very inexpensive, safe and easy-to-administer way to keep some of these outbreaks in check.”

Waldor said his group’s modified-cholera vaccine also could be grown and packaged in pills quickly and easily in case of an outbreak.

Both caution that these animal studies are a long way from new treatments for human patients. They need to be proven in clinical trials.

Microscopic Image Of a Virus
Microscopic Image Of a Virus, Pixabay

Beyond cholera

The two studies could not only have an impact on cholera, but could also influence how doctors treat other intestinal diseases and manage gut health, according to Robert Hall, who oversees research funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

While fermented foods promising better health are widely available, “the studies with probiotics in the field have really seldom shown great effectiveness when they’re done scientifically,” Hall said.

The work Collins’s group did not only shows effectiveness, but explains how it works: by “making the intestine inhospitable” to cholera, he added.

Hall wrote a commentary accompanying the two studies.

Other gut diseases work the same way as cholera, he noted, so it’s possible that other microbes could be developed that block harmful germs from gaining a foothold while acting as vaccines at the same time.

Also read: Lack of Toilets, Clean Drinking Water Pose Cholera Threat in Rohingya Refugee Camps

“It’s a very exciting principle,” Hall said. (VOA)

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Polio Virus Remains A Global Threat: U.N. Official

Polio, which has no cure, invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours.

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Polio
A health worker gives polio vaccine to a girl in Lahore, Pakistan. VOA

Tremendous progress has been made in efforts to wipe out polio around the world. Before a global eradication program began 30 years ago, about 350,000 children became paralyzed from polio each year. The figure dropped to 28 in 2018.

Nevertheless, Helen Rees, chair of the World Health Organization’s emergency committee, said Friday that polio remained an international threat. She said every available health strategy must be used to prevent the wild polio virus from spreading across borders.

“The fear is that we might well see a resurgence, that we could see exportation again and a reversal of all of the work and all of the country global efforts that have gone into trying to eradicate polio,” Rees said. “And we certainly cannot allow that to happen.”

Polio virus
There’s an exciting new breakthrough in treating some types of deadly brain tumors, that uses, of all things, a polio virus. Doctors at Duke Health in North Carolina genetically altered the virus because it produces such a strong immune response in our bodies. Flickr

Polio remains endemic in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Rees said that over the last few months, there has been a worrying exportation of the wild polio virus to and from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“We have got widespread, positive environmental sampling in Pakistan,” she said. “And in Afghanistan, because of the more difficult situation there in terms of security, we are unable to access probably as many as a million children for vaccination.”

Separately, there is good news from the African region. The director of WHO’s polio eradication program, Michel Zaffran, noted that the wild polio virus has not been seen in Nigeria since it was last detected more than two years ago.

Polio virus
A boy receives polio vaccine drops by anti-polio vaccination workers along a street in Quetta, Pakistan, Jan. 2, 2017. VOA

If this keeps up, he said, the regional certification commission could be able to declare the wild polio virus eradicated from the African region at the end of 2019 or early 2020. He said $4.2 billion would be needed over the next five years to see the last of this disease.

Also Read: Ebola Is Now Affecting New Born Babies in Congo: U.N.

Polio, which has no cure, invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. The WHO says polio is transmitted from one person to another through the fecal-oral route, or less frequently by a common vehicle like contaminated food and water. Fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and limb pain are among polio’s symptoms. (VOA)