NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Researchers in Aberdeen targeting typhoid cure

Image caption The typhoid outbreak happened in Aberdeen in 1964

Researchers are hoping to close in on a cure for typhoid, 50 years after the largest outbreak of the disease in recent British history.

A team from the University of Aberdeen hopes new drugs can be developed.

Dr Stefania Spano said: "To many, it may seem that typhoid is almost a historical disease.

"But in developing countries where poor sanitation is a concern, it continues to kill hundreds of thousands of people each year."

Dr Spano, who is leading the research, said 26 million new cases are being diagnosed annually.

She said: "Our work here in Aberdeen is seeking to identify what remains elusive - the molecules that have the ability to kill the pathogenic bacteria, Salmonella Typhi, which causes the infection.

"It is just one in over 2,000 types of Salmonella bacteria, but among the least understood.

"It is only in the last few years that biomedical research has begun to break ground in understanding the basis of this infection."

Image caption Dr Stefania Spanò wants to find what is unique in human biology

She added: "Typhoid is an infection that is unique to humans.

"We know that, unlike us, animals host macrophages within their bodies that have the ability to fight it.

"Our research is aiming to identify what is unique in the human biology that prohibits us from fending off Salmonella Typhi."

"Crucially what we are now seeking to identify is what we would call the 'killing factor' - the molecule that essentially delivers the fatal blow in killing the Salmonella Typhi pathogen.

"If we can identify this it would provide enhanced understanding of the infection that could in the long-term lead to the development of new drugs for its treatment."

Hygiene lessons

The 1964 Aberdeen typhoid outbreak led more than 500 people of all ages being quarantined in hospital.

Most patients spent many weeks in hospital until they were allowed home.

The outbreak was contained without a single related death.

An inquiry into the outbreak later found that a large can of Argentinean corned beef had been sold sliced from a supermarket cold meat counter.

The can had been cooled in Argentina using untreated water from a river.

The typhoid organism was assumed to have entered the meat through a small hole in the seam of the can.

It was then passed on to anyone who bought the corned beef, or other products which had come into contact with the shop's meat slicer.

The media attention helped raise the importance of cleanliness and hygiene.

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