Keeping infectious microbes in check

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Dr. Samira Mubareka, Sunnybrook’s newest microbiologist is on a continuous quest to ‘rein in’ pathogenic microorganisms for the sake of better patient and community health.

Dr. Samira Mubareka seeks to understand microbes or microorganisms especially those causing infection to better protect patients and the community. She is focused on the study of viruses or virology.

A clinician-scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute and a member of Sunnybrook’s Department of Microbiology with a cross-appointment to the Department of Medicine’s division of Infectious Diseases, she has a keen interest in respiratory viruses in particular Influenza.

“We are pleased Dr. Mubareka’s vast knowledge in virology will expand our understanding in this key area, fortify our diagnostic capacity and support patient management strategies,” says Dr. Andrew Simor, Chief of Microbiology, and Infectious Diseases at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and Director of Clinical Integrative Biology with Sunnybrook Research Institute.

“Her work will also further inform our infection prevention and control practices,” says Dr. Mary Vearncombe, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Sunnybrook and the Chair of the Infection Control Sub-Committee of PIDAC (Provincial Infectious Diseases Advisory Committee).

Beyond the ‘what’ of Influenza

Research tells us much about the ‘what’ of the Influenza virus, yet less is understood about the transmission of the virus. Dr. Mubareka and her laboratory team are conducting preclinical research to observe the patterns of spread. They are also exploring Staphyloccocus aureus bacteria commonly found on the skin and in the noses of healthy individuals, and its potential role in virus transmission.

“The more we can learn in the lab about transmission and what helps or hinders the process, the better we can translate this knowledge to improve preventive and protective strategies,” says Dr. Mubareka who received her MD at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, and as a Research Fellow conducted molecular virology research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York in Peter Palese’s lab – a lab known worldwide for its leading studies in Influenza.

Patterns of co-infection

Dr. Mubareka is also studying the Influenza virus and its interactions with bacterial infections, namely a pattern of Influenza infection and a secondary bacterial or staphylococcal infection.

Recent studies have shown the pattern of bacterial co-infection to be the likely cause of mortality in most individuals infected in the 1918 Spanish Flu virus epidemic, and the cause of mortality in 32 per cent of individuals infected with the H1N1 Flu virus last year.

“With Flu-related staphylococcal co-infection, healthcare institutions are seeing more occurrences of older individuals first diagnosed with Influenza A, who then contract a secondary bacterial infection like Methicillin-sensitive Staphyloccocus aureus (MSSA),” says Dr. Mubareka, “or cases of younger adults with Influenza A infection followed by Community-acquired Methicillin-Resistant Staphyloccocus aureus (CA-MRSA).”

“Though we have made tremendous strides since the large and lethal Spanish Flu epidemic over ninety years ago in reducing transmission and infection, there is still so much more to learn and to apply to Flu prevention and management.”

Dr. Mubareka carries on the quest to keep these particular microbes in check.