Posts Tagged ‘Outbreak’

Wheat farmers around South Africa are becoming increasingly worried about the discovery of  a new  mutation of the Ug99 virus.

Ug99 is a form of wheat stem rust and it is a killer pathogen that decimates crops, especially wheat – the world’s most consumed cereal. The newest mutation of the fungus was discovered in South Africa in 2009. The rust attacks the stem of wheat plants causing them to be unable to stand upright. The effect of an outbreak of Ug99 can be seen by looking back to Kenya in 2007 where farmers in the Narok region of Kenya lost up to 80% of their wheat crop.

Although the disease can be prevented by using fungicides, the latest strain of the virus has stirred a panic because, not only is it more virulent than anything that has previously been encountered but it also presents the wheat plant with fewer defenses against it. Plant geneticist Ravi Singh found that the new variant of the fungus is now able to overcome approximately 32 resistance genes of about 50 in total.

South Africa’s wheat requirement sits at about 3 million tons yearly which is mainly used to produce bread. About 2 million tons of that amount is locally produced by the country’s commercial farmers, the rest is imported. If South Africa had any difficulty with producing the 2 million tons, the country could face a major food crisis.

There are seven mutant strains of the virus that are known to scientists. The virus was first detected in 1999. This means that in 10 years the virus has mutated 6 times becoming more and more resistant to fungicides.

What is most worrying is that the mutation of the virus seems to be speeding up. It also seems that the more the virus is exposed to fungicides the more it mutates.

Could there be a possible scenario where fungus mutates to such an extent that it eventually becomes completely immune to fungicides? Scientists from around the world have often stated that the evolution of viruses poses the greatest threat to man’s survival.

Do you think they are right?

Unknown Disease in South Africa

Disease is a major concern in South Africa. In addition to having one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world, the majority of South Africans do not have access to quality public healthcare.

This is what makes the story of an unknown disease breaking out in South Africa in 2008 all that more disturbing. On the 12th of September, 2008, an office employee working for a safari company in Zambia was diagnosed with an as yet unknown disease. The woman was evacuated and died in a Johannesburg hospital two days later. On the 27th of September the paramedic who had assisted in her evacuation to South Africa was also admitted to hospital. He died on the 2nd of October. A nurse who had taken care of the first patient also fell ill and succumbed to the disease on the 5th of October.

The disease was analyzed in a laboratory but no conclusive results were reached. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) based in South Africa have done several tests of which none have tested positive for viral haemorrhagic fevers or other common infectious disease pathogens. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, United States assisted in the testing of the disease. Symptoms of the disease include fever, headaches, diarrhea, rash and liver failure which lead to death.

After initial tests with inconclusive results the disease was identified as arenavirus infection by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Arenaviruses are associated with rodents which are the carriers of the virus. Contact with faeces, urine, blood or saliva of infected rodents or dust containing infective particles results in the transmission of the virus to humans.

An entire month passed from the point of infection to the point of identification of the virus. This makes you wonder what would happen if a larger outbreak had to take place…

How many more people would have lost their lives if the virus had been more widespread?