Tobacco cure for ‘cruise ship virus’?

September 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Medical Research & Studies, Travel


Anyone who regularly travels by plane or ship will probably have fallen victim to norovirus and its unpleasant symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting. It is sometimes referred to as the “cruise ship virus”, as it has occurred with frightening regularity there, but this microbe can spread like wildfire through any place where people gather such as offices, schools and military bases.

Because of the large numbers of cases, a search has been on for a vaccine and this new certainly is unique in its origin as it was “manufactured” in a tobacco plant using an engineered plant virus. Science has always turned to nature when seeking cures – not always with the best results – but it has been effective in many cases. A study of the top 150 proprietary drugs used in the USA in 1993 found that 57% of all prescriptions contained at least one major active compound derived from plants and we would not have aspirin without white willow bark, or digoxin without digitalis, and many more examples.

Researchers are particularly turning to plants in the battle against fast spreading infectious diseases like norovirus, swine flu, and bird flu. They are doing so because plant biotechnology makes available more efficient and inexpensive ways to bring vaccines quickly to the public and this is especially critical in times when viruses mutate into unpredictable new strains as they are doing more and more today.

It is less expensive than developing conventional vaccines because purification from plant extracts is simpler as there are no infectious agents to clean up. There are no viruses in plants which can infect humans, so you don’t have to worry about viral removal.

Noroviruses are always mutating, making it difficult to produce an effective vaccine in the time scale required. The costs involved in this are huge so it is a great development to be able to use plant biotechnology to create a cheaper, quicker vaccine that is uniquely suited to combat mutating viruses like norovirus and the flu. Plant-based vaccines can be produced and put into clinical tests within eight to 10 weeks and for commercial use that means a fast turnaround of two to four months.

And where does tobacco come in? Well the scientists involved re-engineered plant viruses to produce high levels of specially designed “virus-like” nanoparticles in tobacco plants. These particles are the same size as the norovirus, but they consist only of the outer surface protein — that is the portion of the virus recognized by the human immune system. The particles contain none of the infectious material of the original virus, but they stimulate a robust immune response to fight off an actual infection.

So a good use for tobacco plants, and good news for tobacco farmers who must have seen a serious downturn in profits in the last few years. After successful experiments, a nasal delivery system for the virus-like particles is being developed and will start clinical trials in late 2009.

Personal portable superbug protection

October 16, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, Medical Research & Studies, Travel, Wellness

There have been so many stories in the press about ‘superbugs’ and the danger of infection in hospitals, or anywhere you are away from home and staying in a public environment. I am a great believer in being proactive, and I have a close friend who has been in hospital 6 times over the last 5 years, and got infected each time – so I was happy to pass on to him some news that came my way this week.

If you are concerned for yourself, or a friend or relative in hospital, or care home, then you could buy them something that will be a lot more welcome than flowers or fruit. Just launched is a product called PatientPak which the manufacturers claim will help protect people when they visit hospital as it is proven to kill pathogens, including MRSA, and is effective within 10 seconds. It is also proven to kill a wide spectrum of viruses and bacteria including E Coli, Norovirus, Campylobacter, Salmonella, Listeria and Avian Flu (H5N1), and can also be used in the home or when travelling.

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, has proposed that the NHS constitution gives patients responsibilities as well as rights, and that means you are going to be responsible for high standards of personal hygiene in order to avoid bringing infections on to a hospital ward – and also presumably to discourage you from suing them if you do fall ill.

The PatientPak consists of a number of items formulated and developed by medical doctors, which has only been available so far in hospitals. They work by stopping harmful bacteria building up resistance to the active ingredients and this is what you get in the Pak:

** Two types of antimicrobial wipes: one for surfaces for cleaning surfaces and killing germs on door handles, bed frames, toilet seats, food tables, work surfaces and taps and a gentler one for your face and body.

** An antimicrobial sanitising hand spray to use before handling food, after using the toilet and after any physical contact with others, together with a hair and body wash.

** A fabric spray that kills germs that can survive on fabric and can be used on clothes, curtains or bed linen.

** A pH-neutral cleansing soap and nail brush which are essential for removing spores and other pathogens, including C difficile. Your mother was right about always thoroughly washing your hands, it’s the first line of defence against germs.

** Finally, they include a toothbrush plus toothpaste, lip balm and pen.

The pack is a one-off item, you use it and dispose of the contents at the end of your hospital visit to minimize the transfer of bugs when you get back home. All that, plus a leaflet full of advice on good hygiene practice and how you can protect yourself from superbugs. There’s also a polite notice that patients can place next to their hospital bed, which requests that people check that their hands are clean before treatment is given – and includes your visitors who pick over the fruit they have brought you and then leave you with their germs! This note was apparently suggested by the leading charity, MRSA Action UK, to help if you are too shy, embarrassed, or ill, to ask people to wash their hands before approaching you.

The pack retails at £15.99, which sounds like a bargain to avoid all those bugs, and you can buy it in main branches of Boots, Holland & Barret and the pharmacies in major supermarkets. If you can’t find it then you can buy online from