Researchers Make Anthrax Advances

WASHINGTON, DC-With concerns escalated about chemical and biological warfare after the September 11 attack in the United States, American researchers are closely studied one potentially fatal and threatening bacterium---Bacillus anthracis.

Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis, which infects warm-blooded animals most frequently. However, it can also be produced in a dry form for biological warfare and stored in ground particles. Upon inhalation of these particles, humans suffer from respiratory failure and death within a week.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have identified a gene in mice that may provide a resistance to anthrax. The genetic mutation, which was isolated and named KiflC, may be responsible for making some mice more resistant to anthrax infection than others. The report, published in the journal Current Biology reviews the method in which the researchers worked to discover the mutation and how they are trying to determine its function.

The bacteria can cause flu-like symptoms: high fever, vomiting, joint ache, and labored breathing. While an infected person thinks they are just fighting a seasonal cold, their immune systems are actually under a devastating attack. Anthrax, which invades the macrophage, pushes the immune system to produce an inflammatory and oxidative counter-attack. If a mouse has the genetic mutation to fight this attack, the gene may help instead push the anthrax toxin into an area where the immune system is more apt to fight.

Although a vaccine exists, it is in short supply and given only to military officials to date.

The mutation research is ultimately aimed at preventing the anthrax bacterium from causing damage, whether that be via antibiotics or an antidote.

Research will continue to determine whether some humans also carry the mutation that would help fight off an anthrax attack.

Information from www.washingtonpost.com, www.cdc.gov, previous Infection Control Today reports.

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