Chapter 20 : Natural Disaster Microbiology

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This chapter on natural disaster microbiology focuses on polymicrobial infections occur during trauma. More recently, heightened dangers from measles and hepatitis viruses have become apparent during natural disasters such as cyclones. Now, another significant problem is attracting attention−that of polymicrobial infections with multiply resistant organisms heavily inoculated into the body during trauma. One of the most striking findings of a survey on tsunami victims was that pathogens in repatriated patients were often resistant to several antibiotics. The incidence of melioidosis tends to rise after natural disasters, while victims of events ranging from the Marmara earthquake in Turkey in 1999 to tornadoes in Georgia and Alabama have developed infections with gram-negative rods. In a first systematic study of its sort, researchers in USA, isolated hundreds of soil bacteria that were able to grow on antibiotics as the sole source of carbon. Of 18 antibiotics tested, representing eight major classes of natural and synthetic origin, 13 to 17 supported the growth of clonal bacteria from each of 11 diverse soils. The researchers were surprised to find that the bacteria subsisting on antibiotics were phylogenetically highly diverse, with many related to human pathogens. Findings of Swiss-French research are further components in a still-evolving view of the impact of natural disasters on the transmission of communicable diseases. The emphasis is shifting away from a focus on the fear of waterborne epidemics traditionally thought to be associated with disasters. It is now being realized that these do not necessarily occur, even, paradoxically, after large-scale floods.

Citation: Dixon B. 2009. Natural Disaster Microbiology, p 91-95. In Animalcules. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817442.ch20
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1. Dantas, G.,, M. O. A. Sommer,, R. D. Oluwasegun,, and G. M. Church. 2008. Bacteria subsisting on antibiotics. Science 320: 100 103.
2. Uçkay, I.,, H. Sax,, S. Harbarth,, L. Bernard,, and D. Pittet. 2008. Multi-resistant infections in repatriated patients after natural disasters: lessons learned from the 2004 tsunami for hospital infection control. J. Hosp. Infect. 68: 1 8.
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4. Vogel, G. 2005. Indian Ocean tsunami. Using scientific assessments to stave off epidemics. Science 307: 345.

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