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The Top 10 Infectious Disease and Outbreak News stories of 2013

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2013 was a year full of impactful infectious disease stories with outbreaks of diseases not before seen in humans, diseases seen in new parts of the planet and miracle stories of survivors. Drugs not approved in the United States gained national attention and some human maladies come one- step closer to joining smallpox as becoming eradicated.

First I’ll start with a few stories that deserve honorable mention.

Honorable mention #1Carter Center announces the number of Guinea worm cases reported in 2012 dropped to 542.

Announced in January 2013, the Carter Center said in 1986 when the campaign began, there were 3.5 million cases in 21 countries in Africa and Asia.

Today, there are 542 cases in four countries, with 96 percent of the cases, or 521 cases from the South Sudan alone. The remaining cases in 2012 were reported by Chad (10), Mali (7), and Ethiopia (4)

Honorable mention #2— H5N1 avian influenza in Cambodia

H5N1 avian influenza Image/CDC

H5N1 avian influenza
Image/CDC

Cambodia saw a dramatic increase in human H5N1 avian influenza (AI) cases in 2013. The Southeast Asian Kingdom recorded 26 cases of human H5N1 AI in 2013. Since thevirus was first confirmed in a human in Cambodia in 2005 to 2012, the total cases amounted to 21 (55 percent of all human H5N1 AI in Cambodia occurred in 2013).

In fact, more than 68 percent of all human H5N1 AI cases recorded in 2013 were from Cambodia. The rest of the world confirmed 12 cases.

Honorable mention #3— Colombia eliminates river blindness

Colombia became the first country in the Americas to eliminate river blindness and is the first country in the world to apply for and be granted verification of elimination of river blindness by the World Health Organization (WHO).

And now the Top 10…

#10— Maryland Organ Transplant patient contracts rabies

For the first time since 1976, Maryland reported a human rabies death. What made this story even more unusual, the patient contracted the lethal virus via an organ transplant a year earlier.

What made this case even more remarkable, the three other recipients who received organs from the infected donor survived.

#9Chikungunya in the Western Hemisphere

A relatively new story, first reported earlier this month, the mosquito borne viral disease not previously “locally transmitted” in the Americas, was reported on the Caribbean island of St. Martin. Since the first cases, the outbreak has grown to more than two dozen, including cases in neighboring islands of Martinique and Guyane.

#8 — Meningitis B on US college campuses

Neisseria meningitis B was confirmed in at least a dozen students and staff at two US universities on opposite coasts–Princeton and UC Santa Barbara.

However, the biggest story to come out of these outbreaks was the FDA allowing the use of unlicensed vaccine, Bexsero, to be used at Princeton this month.

#7 — Salmonella outbreak in the US linked to Foster Farms chicken

The outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg linked to Foster Farms chicken products has been in the news for the bulk of 2013, and its still not over.

The latest numbers from the CDC are now  416 persons infected with seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 23 states and Puerto Rico.

#6 — Dengue fever

Dengue was making the news at the turn of 2012-2013 with the outbreak on the Portuguese island of Madeira. By February, the island has reported over 2,100 cases.

Female Aedes aegypti mosquito Image/James Gathany

Female Aedes aegypti mosquito
Image/James Gathany

Dengue made it’s presence known worldwide. In Asia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia saw big increases of the viral disease. India and Pakistan continue to see cases on a daily basis.

More than 2.3 million people in the Americas were infected in 2013, with Brazil reporting about 1.5 million cases alone.

The United States reported 505 cases in 2013, with at least two dozen being “locally acquired”.

Vaccine research is being done at a feverish pace for dengue.

A Oxford/ Wellcome Trust  study in April estimated 390 million dengue infections per year worldwide. This is 4 times higher that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates of 50–100 million dengue infections worldwide every year.

#5 — Polio’s ups and downs

Polio is another infectious disease that many believe can follow smallpox and be eradicated, had stories that represent the ups and downs of this hope.

Bad news. The outbreak of polio on the Horn of Africa that began with it’s first case in Somalia in April, grew to 203 cases total in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

War-torn Syria, which hadn’t seen a polio case since 1999, reported an outbreak that as of today has infected 17 people.

Pakistan, one of the three remaining polio endemic countries, has reported an increase in cases in 2013 (77) as compared to 2012 (58).

Good news. The outbreak on the Horn of Africa appears to be on the decline.

In Afghanistan, one of the three polio endemic countries, reported only 11 cases in 2013, down from 37 in 2012. However, more importantly, the country  reported no indigenous cases of wild poliovirus all year – all cases are linked to cross-border transmission with neighboring Pakistan.

The number of cases reported in Nigeria (the other endemic country) dropped significantly in 2013 to 50 cases. This compares to the 122 cases reported in 2012.

#4— Cyclospora outbreak in the US

The parasitic outbreak first seen in Iowa over the summer, grew to 631 cases  reported from 25 states and New York City.

 Cyclospora cayetanensis  Image/CDC

Cyclospora cayetanensis Image/CDC

Forty-nine people required hospitalization for their illness and no deaths were reported.

The CDC concludes that based on the findings in the investigations suggest that there was more than one outbreak of cyclosporiasis during June–August 2013 in the United States. Restaurant-associated illnesses in Iowa and Nebraska were linked to salad mix from Taylor Farms de Mexico in Guanajuato, Mexico. Some illnesses in Texas were linked to fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico.

#3 — H7N9 avian influenza in China

Until recently, this virus had not been seen in people. However, human infections started being reported in China in February of this year. 

There are now nearly 150 cases reported, including two imported cases in Hong Kong and one imported case in Taiwan.

#2 — Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)

Beginning in 2012, the MERS coronavirus outbreak continues in 2013 with the total cases reported to the WHO, as of today, stands at 166 cases and 71 fatalities.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the virus is the question, “where are humans contracting it from?” Recent research has found the virus in dromedary camels; however, still nothing is clear or certain.

Drum roll please…

#1 — The Kali Hardig story

First reported in July, the 12-year-old Benton, Arkansas girl contracted the 95-99% fatal ameba, Naegleria fowleri at a Arkansas waterpark.

Kali Hardig Image/Prayers for Kali Le Ann Facebook page

Kali Hardig
Image/Prayers for Kali Le Ann Facebook page

However, she beat all odds and became the first person to survive the lethal infection in the US since the 1970s.

In addition to her amazing recovery, the story brought the investigational drug, Miltefosine into the mainstream.

Truly the miracle of 2013, in the view of this author.

Agree, disagree? Did I leave something out? Love to hear your comments.

For more infectious disease news and information, visit and “like” the Infectious Disease News Facebook page and the Outbreak News This Week Radio Show page.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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