TWiM 90: Think globally, act locally

I usually don’t post TWiM episodes here, but #90 has a lot of virology. In this episode, recorded in La Jolla, CA at the annual meeting of the Southern California Branch of the American Society for Microbiology, I first speak with Laurene Mascola, Chief of Acute Communicable Diseases at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Dr. Mascola talks about how Los Angeles county has prepared for an outbreak of Ebola virus. Next up is David Persing, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical and Technology Officer at Cepheid. His company has developed an amazing, modular PCR machine that is brining rapid diagnosis everywhere, including the United States Post Office. And it might even be available on your refrigerator one day.

Watch TWiM #90 below, or listen at or iTunes.


Virology at Coursera

Virology2One of my goals as a science communicator is to be Earth’s virology professor. To do this I teach an undergraduate virology course at Columbia University and at iTunes University. This past summer I ported my undergraduate virology course to where I reached 26,000 students. My next virology course at Coursera, How viruses cause disease, begins on 9 January 2014.

How viruses cause disease explores the interplay between viruses and their host organisms. The course begins with an overview of how infection is established in a host, then moves to a virologist’s view of immune defenses.  Next we consider how the replication strategy and the host response determine the outcome of infection, such that some are short and others are of long duration. The mechanisms by which virus infections transform cells in culture are explored, a process that may lead to tumor formation in animals. We then move to a discussion of how viral infections are controlled by vaccines and antiviral drugs. After an introduction to viral evolution, we discuss the principles learned from zoonotic infections, emerging infections, and humankind’s experiences with epidemic and pandemic viral infections. The course ends with an exploration of unusual infectious agents such as viroids, satellites, and prions, followed by a discussion of the causative agent of the most serious current worldwide epidemic, HIV-1.

To create the Coursera courses, I divide the lecture videos from my undergraduate offering into 10-20 minute segments. I add annotations to indicate parts of the illustrations that I highlight during each lecture. Questions are also inserted in the videos to ensure that students are learning the desired principles. Weekly quizzes, a final exam, and discussion forums round out the Coursera experience.

Because others might benefit from the shorter videos, I have also made them available at YouTube. These videos are annotated, but do not have the built-in questions which are only available on Coursera. I would be pleased to learn how to add questions to YouTube videos.

Virology lecture: Picornaviruses

I was scheduled to deliver a lecture on picornaviruses to a virology class at Yale University this week, but had to cancel at the last minute. I prepared this screencast to make up for my absence.

The Picornaviridae is a family of non-enveloped, positive-strand RNA viruses which contains some well known viruses including poliovirus, rhinovirus, hepatitis A virus, enterovirus 71, and foot-and-mouth disease virus. In this lecture I cover basic aspects of picornavirus replication and pathogenesis, including attachment and entry, translation and protein processing, RNA synthesis, assembly and release, disease and immunization.

Smallpox in New York City, 1947

nytimes_4-5-1947Millions of New Yorkers were immunized against smallpox within a few weeks in April 1947. The stimulus for this mass immunization was the importation of smallpox by a businessman who had acquired the disease during his travels. While we are in the middle of a massive influenza immunization campaign, it is useful to review the 1947 accomplishment as a model for public health planning and mobilization.

Early in March 1947, an American arrived in New York City by bus from Mexico City. He was ill upon arrival, and died in hospital within a few days. The cause of death was listed as bronchitis. Eleven days later a 22 month old baby and a 25 year old man were admitted to the same hospital with symptoms of smallpox. Laboratory tests revealed that these two individuals, as well as the businessman from Mexico, were positive for smallpox.

As a result of the smallpox diagnosis, all the hospital employees, as well as anyone who might have had contact with the patients outside the hospital, were immunized with smallpox vaccine.

The New York City Health Commissioner also recommended immunization of all New Yorkers who had not received smallpox vaccine since early childhood.  Vaccine was supplied free of charge to clinics set up all over the city, and to private physicians. When a second person died from the disease on April 13, the Mayor asked all 7.8 million New Yorkers to be vaccinated. At this announcement, the city shifted into crisis mode, with contributions by police, fire, health departments, and hospitals. The campaign slogan was “Be sure, be safe, get vaccinated!”

It is interesting to note that vaccine side effects were barely considered during this crisis. The Health Commissioner assured the public that “Vaccination is painless. The skin is not even broken by the needle. Sometimes a soreness develops in the armpit. If the arm becomes very sore, apply an icebag”.  The contrast with the amount of information provided today is considerable.

It is estimated that 5-6 million people were immunized by the end of April. The outbreak seemed to have been halted by the practice of ring vaccination, in which anyone who had contact with infected individuals were immunized.

The fact that the public health establishment of 1947 was able to quickly and effectively respond to an infection crisis should provide confidence in managing the current influenza immunization program or one against a novel infection of the future. But even though science and medicine have significantly improved since 1947, we still have a limited set of responses to frightening outbreaks: vaccination, quarantine, and anti-infective drugs.

Sepkowitz KA (2004). The 1947 smallpox vaccination campaign in New York City, revisited. Emerging infectious diseases, 10 (5), 960-1 PMID: 15216846

TWiV 48: Outbreaks near you

twiv_aa_2001Hosts: Vincent Racaniello, Dick DespommierAlan Dove, and Rich Condit

On episode 48 of the podcast “This Week in Virology”, Vincent, Dick, Alan and Rich revisit a vaccinia virus lab accident and viral vaccines produced in plants, then talk about an iPhone app to track infectious diseases, flying foxes, and an inhaled measles vaccine.

Click the arrow above to play, or right-click to download TWiV #48 (58 MB .mp3, 79 minutes)

Subscribe to TWiV in iTunes, by the RSS feed, or by email

Links for this episode:
Laboratory acquired vaccinia infection
Medicago (investor presentation, pdf) and Fraunhofer produce vaccines in plants
iPhone app Outbreaks near me
No culling of flying foxes in Australia
Inhaled powdered measles virus vaccine
Herpesvirus latency confers symbiotic protection from bacterial infection (thanks Juliet!)
Porcine circovirus vaccine
Swine flu vaccine and Guillain-Barré (thanks Tom!)
The Great Flu and blog post (thanks Swiss compass and Allison!)
Building semiconductors with DNA (thanks Duncan!)
Email on viral classification (thanks Rodney and Eliot!)

Weekly Science Picks
Rich Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Dick Eliot Porter at the Carter Museum and bookstore at Amazon
Alan Dr. Clarke’s H1N1 rap at the HHS sponsored YouTube contest
Vincent Coast to Coast Bio Podcast

Send your virology questions and comments (email or mp3 file) to or leave voicemail at Skype: twivpodcast. You can also send articles that you would like us to discuss to delicious and tagging them with to:twivpodcast.

Conversations from Penn State: Emerging Diseases

In the current episode of the Penn State University interview series called “Conversations from Penn State“, Peter Hudson, who is Willaman professor of biology and director of Penn State’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, discusses the dynamics of infectious diseases, their spread, and their transmission from animals to humans.