Disease

The reason there is no universal flu vaccine is because the influenza virus constantly changes. That's why we get jabbed with a new vaccine every season; the vaccine from the previous year is unlikely to work against the strains of flu circulating this year.

The hunt for a universal influenza vaccine is based on targeting parts of the virus that don't change. In theory, antibodies generated against these portions of the virus should confer protection against all influenza viruses. Whoever develops and successfully demonstrates such a vaccine should win a Nobel Prize.

But this may not be the only strategy for the creation of universal vaccines. Indeed, a team of researchers who are concerned by mosquito-borne illnesses has described a very clever idea for the development...

We are storytellers, connecting the dots, whether they connect or not, into a narrative. And much the way that optical illusions reveal how our brain processes visual information, narratives at the ends of life can give us insight into how our minds fashion stories. A recent article in PLOS One looks at how patients with Alzeihemer’s Disease verbally “cover over” memory gaps and points the way towards how we construct the tales we tell. 

107 Japanese outpatients with varying forms of dementia [1] were given a mini-mental status examination, and their “saving appearance responses/behaviors” (SARs) were recorded. SARs are a variation of what we might call confabulation, glossing over memory gaps with narrative lines, preserving the ability to communicate rather than appear...

Ebola is the most famous of the hemorrhagic fever viruses, but it’s not the only one.

What is commonly called "Ebola" is more specifically the species Zaire ebolavirus, which belongs to the genus Ebolavirus. This group also contains nasty species called Bundibugyo, Sudan, and Taï Forest ebolavirus. Marburgvirus, a separate genus, contains the human pathogenic viruses called Marburg and Ravn. These diseases are largely limited to Africa.

Not so for Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF). This killer, which is a member of the order Bunyavirales, is completely unrelated to the aforementioned viruses. CCHF has caused outbreaks throughout the Middle East and Asia,...

Several explanations are possible for what appears to be an increase in celiac disease and/or gluten sensitivity*.

For instance, perhaps human immunogenetics have changed over time due to some unknown evolutionary selective pressure. Alternatively, it is possible that our dietary habits have influenced our immune system, in the same way that our hygienic habits have been linked to an increase in allergies and autoimmune disorders. Or, perhaps there is no increase at all; more people are being diagnosed simply because doctors are now aware the condition exists.

A popular, but unproven, hypothesis blames wheat. Some have claimed that wheat breeding has created varieties of the crop that produce too much gluten. But a new paper, published in the journal Food Chemistry...

Unless they're eradicated smallpox-style, infectious diseases never disappear. Like an unlucky penny, they can show up at any time.

The reason is because most microbes can survive elsewhere, either in the environment or other animals or both, a concept known as a "reservoir." That is why prevention is the key to public health. And prevention is achieved primarily through practices such as vaccination, water chlorination, pasteurization, sanitation, and good personal hygiene (as well as common sense). If we take away any one of these practices, we can expect relatively rare infectious diseases to come back. Three stories serve to underscore this crucial lesson.

Rabies in Seattle

Recently, a bat was lying on the ground on the University of Washington...

Today was a good day for personalized medicine with the report in the NEJM on treating breast cancer. A study looked at women categorized by a 21-gene assay [1] that predicted recurrence and whose care was predicated upon those findings. The women studied had breast cancer localized to their breast, responsive to hormone manipulation and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) negative. For women at low risk, recurrence of breast cancer runs at about 2% at 10-years and chemotherapy is not recommended; for women at high risk, adjuvant chemotherapy reduces recurrence. But what about the women in between high and low risk? Recommendations in this group have been more difficult, especially given the emotional need to do everything possible felt by both patient and physician.

...

Sometimes a study leaves you gobstruck – and not in a good way. A current article in Circulation: Heart Failure looks at how dietary protein intake impacts the risk of heart failure. Basically, this is a study of 2441 Finnish men age 42 to 60 studied over a mean period of 22 years looking at the incidence of heart failure based on the amount of protein in their diet. Their finding

“In middle-aged men, higher protein intake was marginally associated with increased risk of HF (heart failure).”

It requires a great deal of spin to reach that conclusion. But let us look at two glaring misuses of the concept of breaking a problem down into its parts – reductionism. Reductionism is the basis for most science since so many factors can be involved,...

Nearly a century ago, Lord Carnavon, who attended the opening of King Tut’s Tomb, died shortly afterwards, in April 1923. At the time, the sensational media linked his death to supernatural causes activated by the curse of the mummy’s tomb. More recently, this tale was rationalized by suggesting that his death was due to ancient disease causing microbes, lurking in the tomb, rather than supernatural influences.

Modern technology has been used to examine mummies to attempt to diagnose any infections that they had, which might have been the cause of death. Mummies and other reasonably well-preserved corpses have indeed yielded signs of infection. In some cases, DNA from ancient corpses has been sequenced and revealed the identity of the infectious agents responsible.

For...

Throughout its history, ebola has caused humanity to hunker down and hope for the best. It is a three-tool implement of devastation; a contagious, hemorrhagic, deadly virus.

But with over 7,500 doses of the experimental  rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine being deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the battle has turned. Instead of containment, quarantine and waiting it out, science is attacking. The private sector, along with the World Health Organization, regional officials, and NGOs, are all working together. Merck donated the vaccines, while Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance added $1 million in logistical support.

This is a big psychological change from 2015, when 11,000 people died and almost 29,000 were infected in West Africa before it was contained. America...

A recent study in JAMA reported on the possible effects of acupuncture on women undergoing in vitro fertilization. 848 women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Australia and New Zealand with half receiving three treatments with acupuncture during an IVF cycle and the other half undergoing sham acupuncture with less invasive needles at body points unrecognized as credible acupuncture points. The results, 18.3% live births in the acupuncture group, 17.8% in the sham control group. Acupuncture made no difference. Other studies have documented that about 16% of couples utilize acupuncture during IVF treatment and the percentage rises to almost 30% when herbal remedies are added to the mix. Why would people do this? Before you conclude that they are crazy, ignorant or misguided; ...