Vanderbilt researcher gives emerging infections update

On Friday, Oct. 3, the UT Science Forum hosted Caroline Graber, a research nurse at Vanderbilt University and former Director of Infection Control at the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

Graber speaking at the UT Science Forum on Friday, Oct. 3.
Graber speaking at the UT Science Forum on Friday, Oct. 3.

On Friday, Oct. 3, the UT Science Forum hosted Caroline Graber, a research nurse at Vanderbilt University and former Director of Infection Control at the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.

Graber gave an update from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) about several emerging infections, including MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), Resistant Organisms, Influenza, West Nile Virus, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), Chikungunya, Enterovirus D-68, and Ebola.

Graber explained that the most common cause of infections is organisms that become resistant to antibiotics. Similar to when many infections became resistant to Penicillin in the 1940s, many drugs are becoming ineffective due to their overuse. According to Graber, 23,000 deaths occur each year from resistant organisms.

“Tennessee has one of the highest per capita uses of antibiotics,” Graber said.

Even if you do not use an excessive amount of antibiotics, you still may be exposed to them.

“The CDC is outlawing the sale of antibiotics to use as growth factors in animals,” Graber said. “People are consuming meat and then developing resistances to many drugs.”

The other emerging infections that Graber discussed have been spread to different regions of the United States. The first two cases of the MERS virus appeared in the US this past May from health care providers who had been travelling in the Arabian Peninsula. Chikungunya, which means “joint pain,” is found in mosquitoes in Africa and was brought to the U.S. by travel. There has been one case of Chikungunya in Florida this year.

An infection that received more media attention this year was Enterovirus D-68, which is a lower respiratory infection in children. The virus was first seen in 1962 with 79 reported cases since 2009.

“There is some speculation about whether Enterovirus D-68 is related to Polio, since it can cause muscle pain and weakness, and sometimes paralysis,” Graber said.

Graber concluded her talk with an update about the Ebola virus, which has caused mass casualties in parts of West Africa. The Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Congo. It is believed to have originated in bats and passed onto animals and people. The recent outbreak is the most dangerous that has ever been seen.

“As of Sept. 29, there has been 6,571 cases and 3,091 deaths and that number is growing daily,” Graber said.

According to statistics from the CDC, the survival rate of Ebola ranges from 40-60%.

“The numbers have been very bad in Africa because these parts of the world do not have the means to effectively isolate infected patients and do not have access to clean water or sterile equipment,” Graber said.

The Ebola virus is spread by contact with bodily fluids of people who are showing symptoms of Ebola, which mimic those of the flu.

The forum attracted several faculty, students and Knoxville community members. One such student was Andrew Peters, a junior in Chemical Engineering.

“It was really interesting to hear about some of the infections that doctors and researchers are concerned with, especially Ebola, since it has been found in the U.S.,” Peters said.

Graber urged the audience to always wash their hands and be careful of the people in which we come in contact with on a daily basis.

The UT Science Forum meets every Friday from 12-1 p.m. in Thompson Boling Arena room C-D.

Edited by Ryan McGill