Robert Koch Foundation awarded 2013 Prize for Hospital Hygiene and Infection Prevention

The Robert Koch Foundation, Berlin, has set itself the goal of supporting the fight against infectious diseases and other epidemics. It promotes scientific work financially and by public recognition, especially fundamental research into infectious diseases, immunology and measures to solve medical and hygienic problems in the countries of the third world.

The Foundation awards one of the most prestigious medical commendations

The Robert Koch Award with prize money of 100,000 € is one of the most prestigious scientific commendations in Germany. It is awarded annually, under the patronage of the German Minister of Health, for outstanding and internationally recognised scientific achievements.

Prizewinner 2013 is Prof. Dr. Helge Karch. Please follow this link to read more

H7N9 Virus Has Potential for Both Virulence and Transmissibility in Humans

Attachment of H7N9 virus (red) to the epithelium (blue) of human nasal cavity.

A new study by ANTIGONE investigators has found that a novel avian-origin H7N9 influenza A virus, which has recently emerged in humans, attaches moderately or abundantly to the epithelium of both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. This pattern has not been observed before for avian influenza A viruses. The report, published in the October issue of The American Journal of Pathology, suggests that the emerging H7N9 virus has the potential to cause a pandemic, since it may transmit efficiently in humans and cause severe pneumonia. For the complete press release follow this link.

MERS-CoV in camels


Researchers searching for signs of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in livestock animals have found antibodies specific to the new virus in dromedary camels.  The research, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, suggests that these animals have encountered MERS-CoV, or a closely related virus, and may be one reservoir of the virus that is causing MERS in humans.

While recent research has shown that MERS-CoV can replicate in cell lines taken from bats (which were thought to be the source of the 2002/03 SARS coronavirus outbreak), and is closely related to a bat coronavirus in circulation, it seems unlikely that the virus is transmitting directly from bats to humans, given the generally shy and nocturnal habits of these creatures.  However, given that human-to-human transmissibility of the virus appears to be rare, many researchers suspect that another animal reservoir for the virus exists.

An international  team of researchers led by Dr Chantal Reusken, of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in Bilthoven, the Netherlands, gathered 349 blood serum samples in total from a variety of livestock animals, including dromedary camels, cows, sheep, and goats, as well as from some animals closely related to dromedaries.  The animals were from a variety of different countries, including Oman, the Netherlands, Spain, and Chile, and the investigation is the first reported animal serological study for MERS-CoV.

The researchers analysed the blood serum samples for the presence of antibodies specific to MERS-CoV, as well as antibodies reactive to SARS coronavirus, and another strain of coronavirus labelled HCoV-OC43, which can also infect humans, and is closely related to a bovine form of the virus. The researchers found no evidence of cross-reactivity between antibodies for MERS-CoV  and those for SARS or HCoV-OC43, and confirmed their findings using highly-specific virus neutralisation tests.  The results suggest that the presence of MERS-CoV specific antibodies is likely to indicate previous infection with MERS-CoV, or a closely related virus, at some point in the animal’s history.

No MERS-CoV antibodies were found in blood serum taken from 160 cattle, sheep, and goats from the Netherlands and Spain.  However, antibodies specific to MERS-CoV were found in all fifty serum samples taken from dromedary camels in Oman.  The Oman samples originated from a number of different locations in the country, suggesting that MERS-CoV, or a very similar virus, is circulating widely in dromedary camels in the region.

Lower levels of MERS-CoV-specific antibodies were also found in 14% (15) of serum samples taken from two herds of dromedaries (105 camels in total) from the Canary Islands, not previously known to be a location where MERS-CoV is circulating.  No antibodies specific to the virus were detectable in tests on 34 animals closely related to the dromedary, such as Bactrian camel, alpaca, and llama sampled in the Netherlands and Chile.

According to the authors, “The dromedary camels that we tested from the Middle East (Oman) were more often positive and had much higher levels of antibodies to MERS-CoV than the dromedary camels from Spain.  The best way to explain this is that there is a MERS-CoV-like virus circulating in dromedary camels, but that the behaviour of this virus in the Middle East is somehow different to that in Spain.

As new human cases of MERS-CoV continue to emerge, without any clues about the sources of infection except for people who caught it from other patients, these new results suggest that dromedary camels may be one reservoir of the virus that is causing MERS-CoV in humans. Dromedary camels are a popular animal species in the Middle East, where they are used for racing, and also for meat and milk, so there are different types of contact of humans with these animals that could lead to transmission of a virus.

Research efforts now need to focus on well-designed animal studies in the Middle East, concentrating on finding the virus that triggers these antibodies in dromedaries, and comparing that with the virus from human cases.  This will need to be done not only through veterinary studies, but also by careful follow-up of new human patients, ensuring that as much information as possible is gathered about patients’ contacts with animals and animal products, such as camel milk.

Dr Vincent Munster, of NIAID Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, USA, writes in a linked Comment that, “Chantal Reusken and colleagues provide some insight into one potential animal reservoir that might be involved in the emergence of MERS-CoV in people—for the first time since the discovery of the virus a year ago…In the absence of prophylactic or therapeutic treatment options for MERS-CoV, blocking zoonotic and human-to-human transmission could be the most promising and cost-effective method to prevent further human fatalities. However, doing so requires knowledge of the virus’ hosts.  Although the study by Reusken and colleagues leaves many questions unanswered, it is an important step to a more comprehensive understanding of the emergence of MERS-CoV. Please click here to read the full article.


Limited airborne transmission of influenza A/H7N9 virus between ferrets


The research group of Ron Fouchier of Viroscience lab Erasmus MC has published in the renowned journal Nature.
Since the end of March 2013, a novel avian origin influenza A H7N9 virus is responsible for 133 laboratory confirmed cases of infection in humans, resulting in 37 fatalities in China.
Fortunately, this H7N9 virus does not have the ability to spread efficiently between humans.

Transmission via respiratory droplets and aerosols (airborne transmission) is the main route for efficient transmission between humans, hence it is important to gain insight on airborne transmission of the A/H7N9 virus.
In this research we used the ferret model to investigate whether this virus has the ability to spread via the airborne route. The ferret is a widely used animal model to study influenza A virus virulence and ability to spread.

We showed that, although A/Anhui/1/2013 A/H7N9 virus harbours determinants associated with human adaptation and transmissibility between mammals, its airborne transmissibility in ferrets was limited, intermediate between that of typical human and avian influenza viruses.  Multiple A/H7N9 virus genetic variants were transmitted. Upon ferret passage, variants with higher avian receptor binding, higher pH of fusion, and lower thermostability were selected, potentially resulting in reduced transmissibility.

This A/H7N9 virus outbreak highlights the need for increased understanding of determinants of efficient airborne transmission of avian influenza viruses between mammals.

Please click here to read the article.

Is low pathogenic avian influenza virus virulent for wild waterbirds?


It is important to understand the epidemiology of influenza virus infection in wild waterbirds because they form the ultimate reservoir of influenza viruses infecting humans and domestic animals. One aspect of the epidemiology that is poorly known is the virulence—ability to cause disease—of influenza virus for wild waterbirds. Review of past studies, after taking into consideration major caveats, shows that influenza virus preferentially infects the intestinal tract of wild waterbirds, and that infection is correlated with lower body weight. Therefore, I hypothesize that influenza virus reduces digestive tract function of wild waterbirds, and suggest how to investigate this.

To view the paper we published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B please follow this link

One Health Course information available


The EU consortium ANTIGONE organizes a three-week course that will take place between 16 September and 4 October 2013 in Ciudad Real, Spain. This course is part of the project ANTIGONE, which is the acronym for ANTIcipating the Global Onset of Novel Epidemics, and is a European research network of 14 academic partners from seven European Member states.  Please click here to read more about this course.

Please note that registration for this One Health Course closes on 20 April 2013


A novel human coronavirus, HCoV-EMC, has recently been described to be associated with severe respiratory tract infection and fatalities, similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) observed during the 2002-2003 epidemic. Closely related coronaviruses replicate in bats, suggesting that, like SARS-CoV, HCoV-EMC is of zoonotic origin. Since the animal reservoir and circumstances of zoonotic transmission are yet elusive, it is critically important to assess potential species barriers of HCoV-EMC infection. An important first barrier against invading respiratory pathogens is the epithelium, representing the entry point and primary target tissue of respiratory viruses. We show that human bronchial epithelia are highly susceptible to HCoV-EMC infection. Furthermore, HCoV-EMC, like other coronaviruses, evades innate immune recognition, reflected by the lack of interferon and minimal inflammatory cytokine expression following infection. Importantly, type I and type III interferon treatment can efficiently reduce HCoV-EMC replication in the human airway epithelium, providing a possible avenue for treatment of emerging virus infections.

Human Betacoronavirus 2c EMC/2012 related Viruses in Bats, Ghana and Europe


In a study partly funded by Antigone, insect-eating bats from Ghana, Romania, and The Netherlands were found positive for viruses that were very similar to the novel human coronavirus EMC/2012. EMC/2012 was discovered last year as a cause of fatal respiratory disease in a small number of people from the Middle East. These data suggest that this novel human coronavirus EMC/2012, like the SARS coronavirus, might be another human coronavirus for which an animal reservoir of closely related viruses exists in Old World insectivorous bats. Please click here to read more