Spores of fungus, Candida albicans

The long strands are the tubular filaments (hyphae) that have developed from the fungal spores. Yeast cells (rounded, yellow) are budding from the ends of the hyphae (red). Candida albicans causes the infection known as candidiasis which affects the moist mucous membranes of the body, such as skin folds, mouth, respiratory tract and vagina. Oral and vaginal conditions are known as thrush.

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Microbes are always hitting the headlines. Keep up to date with the latest microbiology news. Most stories are linked to the full article.

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  • More than 300 in intensive care with flu

    22nd December, 2010

    The number of people in intensive care with flu has jumped to 302 – up from 182 last week. Most of these were suffering from infection by the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ virus, according to officials. Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies has said that despite the surge in hospitalisations due to flu, the NHS is coping and there is no shortage of beds. The government is urging individuals in ‘at-risk’ groups to get themselves immunised after reports that uptake of the seasonal flu vaccination is particularly low this year. Shadow Health Secretary Jon Healy suggested that an autumn advertising campaign focusing on vaccination would have helped increase uptake of the seasonal flu jab. The annual publicity campaign was axed as a result of government spending cuts. Government Director of Immunization, Professor David Salisbury said that pregnant women, who represent one of the most ‘at-risk’ groups, should "seek every means to get vaccinated as soon as possible".

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) is not caused by XMRV

    21st December, 2010

    In a series of papers published in the journal Retrovirology, experts conclude that chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME, is not caused by xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV). In 2009 sufferers of ME celebrated the news that their condition may be caused by a viral infection which could be treatable and preventable, however this research has now been discredited. Scientists have shown that the virus detected in previous studies was laboratory contamination. Professor Greg Towers of University College London, an author on one of the papers said, “It is vital to understand that we are not saying chronic fatigue syndrome does not have a virus cause – we cannot answer that yet – but we know it is not this virus causing it.” Chronic fatigue syndrome is a debilitating condition which affects three in every 1,000 people.

  • Hygiene standards at Ninewells Hospital questioned

    21st December, 2010

    Infection control and cleanliness need to be improved at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee as previous issues have yet to be resolved. The hospital was inspected by the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) 12 months ago and a follow-up report highlighted these issues. Eleven wards were assessed at the hospital where inspectors found 11 areas where improvements were needed to comply with NHS hygiene standards. The issues concerned inconsistencies in reporting, poor hand hygiene - including a lack of provision for alcohol gels in two wards - and lack of use of personal protective equipment when changing bed linen. In the past year, five people died in one ward after an outbreak of Clostridium difficile. The deputy chief executive of NHS Tayside, Gerry Marr said, “The report did state that overall the inspection team found the ward environment and clinical areas to be clean, but some of the observed findings are unacceptable for NHS Tayside.”

  • Ward closed after Norovirus outbreak in Swansea

    21st December, 2010

    Surgical ward C at Warriston Hospital, Swansea, is closed to new patients and visitors after an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug, norovirus. Managers at the hospital have announced that the hospital may shut if a significant number of wards have to be closed. Concern has been raised as the number of cases of norovirus are higher than normal for this time of year. Victoria Franklin, Director of Nursing at Warriston Hospital said, “Closing wards because of norovirus is a necessary action, but it does mean that beds are taken out of commission while the ward is closed. This can cause delays in admitting patients.” Norovirus is spread by contact with an infected person or contaminated surface or object; it is estimated that between 600,000 and one million people in the UK are affected every year. Symptoms of infection can last for 12-60 hours and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and in some cases a fever, headache, stomach cramps and aching limbs.

  • Decreased uptake of flu vaccine is leading Britain into crisis

    20th December, 2010

    Myths surrounding the seasonal flu vaccine have led to decreased uptake in at-risk groups resulting in a potential flu crisis for Britain, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned. Since October, 17 people have died of flu, 14 of which had not been vaccinated. Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s general practitioners committee said, “Myths persist about the safety of the vaccine, especially after swine flu. The vaccine has been thoroughly tested and we strongly urge patients to make an appointment with their GP and get vaccinated”.

    GPs have been reminded to offer all pregnant women the seasonal flu vaccine after reports that expectant mothers have been receiving mixed messages.. Many pregnant women claim to have been offered last year’s pandemic flu vaccine alongside the seasonal flu jab – which is unnecessary – or they have been told that they do not need this year’s vaccination if they received the pandemic flu jab last year. Despite officials warning doctors to offer the vaccine to pregnant women many have not been contacted by their GP. In a joint statement, the Department of Health and BMA said, “The Department of Health and the British Medical Association are both working to encourage patients to get vaccinated against flu and GPs to offer at-risk and pregnant patients flu jabs.” They added, “This includes local GPs phoning patients to invite them to get the jab as they know exactly which of their patients are in at-risk groups or are pregnant.”

  • London ‘the TB capital of Europe’

    17th December, 2010

    Research published today in The Lancet medical journal has revealed that London is the “tuberculosis capital of Europe” with around 3,600 of the 9,000 UK tuberculosis (TB) cases diagnosed in the capital. Britain is the only western European country with rising levels of TB. It is thought that the high infection rate is a result of immigration and “Victorian” living conditions, which in some boroughs were described as poor housing with inadequate ventilation and overcrowding. Professor Alimuddin Zumla of University College London, a tuberculosis expert wrote, “The increase in the number of tuberculosis cases in the UK has largely been in non-UK born groups; in 2009, these were black African (28%), Indian (27%), and white (10 %).” Initially infections were being ‘imported’ as people immigrated here, however many cases now diagnosed are migrants who have lived in the UK for more than 2 years, and therefore infection has happened since immigration. TB is a bacterial infection of the lungs which mostly affects those in poor health or the very young, killing around 2 million people annually; symptoms include a hacking cough, joint pain and fever. Transmission occurs after close contact with someone with ‘active’ TB. 

  • Swine flu more severe than expected

    16th December, 2010

    Doctors have warned that the number of cases of influenza H1N1 - also known as swine flu - is higher than expected this year. They report numbers higher than the peak of last year’s pandemic in some areas, with 15 patients dead and more than 100 in intensive care in England. Monitoring of seasonal flu has so far suggested low levels of the H1N1 virus in the community, so the numbers of severely ill patients have taken specialists by surprise. The worst affected are those aged 18-35, pregnant women, the obese, and those with underlying chronic health problems. “Something different is happening this year. The last 10 days have seen a sudden surge of activity. The numbers in intensive care are increasing across the UK. In the north west they are more than at the peak of the pandemic.” said Bob Winter, president of the Intensive Care Society and a consultant in Nottingham. “We have told the Department of Health that this is emerging as a serious issue. We suggested the groups convened last year for swine flu critical care planning should be reconvened. The disease seems disproportionately severe.”

  • Microbes may have survived ‘Snowball Earth’

    15th December, 2010

    During a ‘cataclysmic global freeze’ 700 million years ago, microbes may have survived in pockets of open ocean. Researchers from the UK and Australia have found evidence that microbes may have survived where other forms of life are thought to have perished. The research was published in the journal Geology, lead researcher Dr Dan Le Heron from Royal Holloway University of London said, “This could be one of the ideal places for early organisms to start thriving and for evolution to really start kicking in.”

  • $500,000 for new polio vaccine

    15th December, 2010

    Scientists from the University of Leeds have been awarded $500,000 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a new type of polio vaccine. Intended to trick the body into developing immunity against the polio virus, the vaccine will be composed of the virus’ protein coat without any of the remaining parts which confer disease. “Our intention is to design and produce a replica virus particle,” said Dr Nicola Stonehouse from the University of Leeds. “This means it will be entirely safe to use as it can't ever cause the disease, and, unlike current vaccines, can be produced without needing to grow large amounts of the infectious virus.” Polio is transmitted through food and water and is highly transmittable. In the majority of cases no symptoms are observed, though in a small number it causes inflammation of the spinal cord leading to paralysis. 

  • The re-emergence of swine flu H1N1

    14th December, 2010

    The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has confirmed that influenza H1N1, the viral strain that caused the swine flu pandemic last year, is in circulation again this winter. While the HPA attested that the effects of flu are not to be underestimated, it is thought that levels of the influenza virus are normal for this time of year. Following a pandemic year it is to be expected that the pandemic strain becomes the predominant circulating seasonal flu strain. Influenza H1N1 has killed 10 adults in the past six weeks. Dr John Watson, a flu expert at the HPA, said, “Flu vaccination offers the best protection for those at high risk from seasonal influenza. If you are in an at-risk group and you haven't had your jab, we recommend you make an appointment with your GP or medical practitioner now.” 

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