April 4 2016
Crazy. I haven't come to terms yet with how fast 2016 is going by.
In honor of April Fool's Day, the NY Times did a short piece on debunking popular misconceptions about health and science. They range from the universe's beginning, to baby teeth, to serial killers to exercise myths. Check it out here.
Research into drugs or vaccines that might work against Zika has been hampered because there have been no approved animal models in which to test them. The first new mouse model in which the Zika virus can be tested was recently identified! The virus sickens AG129 mice, which lack the genes to mount an interferon-based immune reaction, unlike normal mice who don't respond much to the virus. When infected, AG129 mice had concentrated virus in the brains and testes, reflecting the damage it is thought to cause in humans. UTMB and other institutions are now working on monkey models as well. ♧
The F.D.A. has also cleared use of a new test to screen blood donations for Zika. The move means that Puerto Rico, which had halted local blood donations and had imported nearly 6,000 units of red blood from the continental United States, will soon be able to resume collecting donations from residents. And it should help blood banks elsewhere in the country avoid similar ordeals. It took almost a year to develop a test to screen blood donations for West Nile virus, so people are applauding the rapid progress. ♧
However, only days before the announcement, Liberia closed its border with neighboring Guinea where there were at least four recent deaths from Ebola. The virus has killed about 11,300 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since late 2013. ♧
Despite Liberia's closed borders, a new case of Ebola was confirmed Friday, only three days after the WHO's declaration. The organization did warn that small flare-ups of Ebola were likely in the coming months because of its persistence in some survivors, and said that the three countries “must maintain strong capacity to prevent, detect and respond to further outbreaks.” The WHO has maintained a staff of nearly 1,000 in the region to help if needed. Guinean health authorities have been using an experimental vaccine in an effort to contain the recent flare-up, injecting nearly 800 people. ♧
Cases of scarlet fever have hit a 50-year high. After barely 2,000 annual cases of the highly contagious illness in recent years, there were 17,586 in England and Wales in 2015. There is no sign that the fever has developed an increased resistance to antibiotics, nor is it a virulent new strain. Overall, the reason for its return is baffling scientists. ♧
The first new TB drugs for half a century have just been developed, and it is hoped they will be effective in treating patients who have developed resistance to existing drugs or cannot handle the side-effects. Nearly half a million of new TB cases per year are drug-resistant. Tuberculosis is the most deadly infectious disease in the world, killing 1.5 million people each year. Multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) drugs can have serious side-effects, including hearing loss and psychosis. Unfortunately, globally, only 2% of people with the severest MDR-TB have access to the new drugs, according to MSF. Price is prohibiting access, particularly with one of the drugs, delamanid. ♧
Fortunately, GlaxoSmithKline is looking to lower drug prices in poorer countries. They are waiving patent protection for new drugs in the world’s poorest nations, such as Afghanistan, Rwanda and Cambodia, allowing cheaper generic versions to come on the market without the threat of legal action. The measures will affect 85 countries, helping more than 2 billion people, and benefit Africa most. ♧
burundi in the headlines
The European Union plans to cut back its funding for Burundi's peacekeeping contingent in Somalia to try to force President Pierre Nkurunziza into talks. For each African soldier sent to Somalia, the contributing government receives $1,000 a month for wages and logistics, paid for indirectly by the EU. In Burundi's case, the government keeps $200 a month and soldiers receive $800 each. The EU is hoping Bujumbura’s 5,400-strong contingent -- which earns the state roughly $13 million a year -- may be the Achilles heel of Nkurunziza's reluctance to have effective peace talks. Only the government's portion of this funding will be entirely scrapped, not the soldier's pay. ♧
On Friday, The United Nations Security Council asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide options within 15 days for the deployment of a U.N. "police contribution to increase the U.N. capacity to monitor the security situation, promote the respect of human rights and advance rule of law" in Burundi. ♧
Friday's resolution welcomed the consent of Burundi's authorities to increase the number of AU human rights observers from 100 to 200 and allow 100 AU military experts. It notes that 30 human rights observers and 15 military observers have been deployed so far. ♧
On Saturday, only a day later, Burundi accepted the United Nations security council's resolution to send in police. Some, however, are criticizing the resolution for failing to call for the deployment of peacekeepers. ♧
Have a lovely week. I'll see some of you Thursday :)