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Hidden infections crucial to understanding, controlling disease outbreaks
Date:9/22/2008

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Scientists and news organizations typically focus on the number of dead and gravely ill during epidemics, but research at the University of Michigan suggests that less dramatic, mild infections lurking in large numbers of people are the key to understanding cycles of at least one potentially fatal infectious disease: cholera.

Using a model developed with new statistical methods, U-M researchers and their collaborators came up with results that challenge longstanding assumptions about the disease and strategies for preventing it.

Their findings appear in the Aug. 14 issue of the journal Nature.

The goal of the study was to develop a model that would explain puzzling patterns seen in 50 years of cholera death records from 26 districts in Bengal, cholera's "native habitat."

"In that region, we see two cholera seasons per year, with peaks in spring and fall," said assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Aaron King, the study's lead author. In addition, longer-term ups and downs can be seen over periods of three to five years, with many cholera cases reported during some periods and few during others.

Explanations have been proposed for both the seasonal and multi-year cycles, and King and coworkers wanted to test the validity of those and other possible scenarios. In particular, they wanted to explore the impact of infection-induced immunity on the dynamics of cholera outbreaks.

It's surprisingly hard to get really sick with cholera, an intestinal infection that causes diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. The bacterium that causes the illness, Vibrio cholerae, lives in surface waters, and in areas where sanitation is poor, food and water are commonly contaminated with the bug. But it takes 100 billion bacteria to cause severe illness when ingested with water; 100 million when taken in with food (which protects the bugs from stomach acid). As a result, in areas like Beng
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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2 3

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