Tag Archives: infection

Lack of Education: The Real Reason for the Spread of Ebola

Since the latest Ebola outbreak began in March, there have been more than 2,100 reported cases and 1,145 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

This is already by far the most serious Ebola outbreak in recorded history.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge (Courtesy of the New York Times)

But the disease isn’t some super-virus that is spreading through the air and infecting anyone who comes close. The only way it can be spread is through bodily fluids- getting the blood or vomit of a sick person in your eyes, nose, or mouth, or in an open wound.

So it’s actually relatively difficult to contract the disease, if you understand how it spreads. But the problem is that almost everyone who’s becoming infected now does not know how Ebola spreads.

That’s one of the reasons it has spread so fast. You see, an Ebola victim is most infectious right after they die. This is because they have very high-levels of the virus in their blood at that point.

Also, the total destruction of their immune system causes them to start leaking blood from every pore in their body (this is why Ebola is called “hemorrhagic fever”). These secretions cover the skin of the deceased with a thin film containing high concentrations of the virus.

The stages of Ebola. Click to enlarge

So when the families of victims preform their traditional burial practices, which include kissing and touching the body of the deceased, they give Ebola by far its best opportunity to spread.

This lack of knowledge about how the disease spreads has also caused people to become distrusting of the medical facilities that treat Ebola patients.

“People have no idea how infectious diseases work. They see people go into the hospital sick and come out dead—or never come out at all… They think if they can avoid the hospital they can survive,”

says Dr. Terry O’Sullivan, director of the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy Research (an American agency that has been aiding in the battle against Ebola).

Dr. O’Sullivan recently made an appearance on ABC News to discuss the outbreak (via Youtube)

When Uganda tried to stop the spread of the virus by preventing relatives from seeing their dead family members, it sparked a great deal of hostility and fear.

A rumor spread that the bodies were being kept for nefarious purposes, making the public even more distrusting of foreign health workers (some people believe the foreign health workers were actually the ones who brought the disease to Africa).

When Uganda tried to alleviate the problem by creating a mass graveyard where relatives could see (but not touch) their deceased loved ones, pandemonium broke out.

Villagers ran from the ambulances that transported them there, attacking humanitarian workers and attempting to burn down the hospital. As the Daily Beast’s Abby Haglage put it,

“They feared the disease—but they feared the medicine even more, as well as the people delivering it.”

Many people avoid going to clinics like this one even when they start showing symptoms of Ebola because of their belief that checking in to a treatment facility is an almost certain death sentence

Yesterday evening, this ignorance manifested itself again when a quarantine center for suspected Ebola patients in West Point, a slum in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia, was attacked and looted by protesters.

The protesters were unhappy that patients were being brought into their community from other parts of the capital, and some even believed that the whole Ebola outbreak was a hoax used to take advantage of them.

20 suspected Ebola patients who were being monitored for symptoms left the center during the attacks, but the real danger comes from the blood-stained sheets and mattresses that were looted by the protesters.

Warning shots from police weren’t enough to disperse the crowd of several hundred local residents who gathered near the clinic before it was stormed and looted. Click to enlarge (Getty Images)

A senior police official in the area expressed worry that the looting spree could spread the virus all over West Point, an area that is home to about 50,000 people, almost all of which live in serious poverty and lack basic health resources.

He called the attack,

“…one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life.”

I understand his frustration, but his comment should make us ask ourselves the following question: where did this stupidity come from?

Stupidity is simply a lack of knowledge.

Consider this: in the three countries that have been hit the hardest by this outbreak (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia), literacy rates are between 35% and 45%.

Also, keep in mind that the vast majority of these literate people live in the major cities. In the rural areas, where the disease has really been spreading, literacy rates can be as low as 10%.

The extent of the outbreak as of August 11. Click to enlarge

What we need to understand about this outbreak is that if we would have invested in educating these people 20 years ago, we would not be spending exorbitant amounts of money now in an attempt to stop a disease whose primary victims don’t even understand how it spreads.

Also, the increased education levels would have probably led to a lot more local people becoming health workers.

Not only would there have been more health workers to deal with the outbreak, but a much larger portion of them would’ve been natives with the trust of the locals, rather than foreign workers who most locals are suspicious of.

The bottom line is that education is the answer to almost every problem in the world. Why? Because it gives people the ability to solve their own problems.

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World Health Organization: Ebola Outbreak Is Moving Faster Than Our Efforts to Control It

The current Ebola outbreak in Africa is a serious problem. Since it began in March, the outbreak has claimed 729 lives, leaving another 1,300 people with confirmed or suspected infections.

This is by far the most serious and deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus everThe second most deadly outbreak, in 1976, only had 602 cases and 431 deaths.

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Click to enlarge

Earlier today, Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), spoke to leaders from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (the three most affected countries) in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

She proposed a $100 million plan to help reverse the tide of the battle against the outbreak by deploying hundreds of additional personnel to reinforce the local and international health workers who have been overwhelmed by the high number of infections.

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Click to enlarge

Chan, in no uncertain terms, stressed the urgency and importance of putting this plan into place:

“This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it.”

She also added that the ways things are going now, the chance of the outbreak spreading to other countries is high:

“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”

In her speech, Chan told the leaders that this particular strain of the virus is the most lethal strain in the Ebola virus family. According to the W.H.O., the virus has killed more than half of the people it has infected.

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Click to enlarge

She also talked in detail about how fast and easily the virus has been spreading, as well as pointing that,

“…it has demonstrated its ability to spread via air travel, contrary to what has been seen in past outbreaks.”

The virus is spreading not only in rural areas but also in densely populated cities. Chan warned that if it is not contained quickly, it has the potential to mutate:

“Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises.”

The Ebola virus (those long, spaghetti-looking strands) covers a cell and spreads to others nearby. Click to enlarge (Credit: Paul Bates, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine)
The Ebola virus (those long, spaghetti-like strands) covers a cell and spreads to others nearby. Click to enlarge. (Credit: Paul Bates, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine)

Luckily, the virus is not yet airborne- it spreads via bodily fluids. If the blood, vomit or feces of an infected person comes in contact with the eyes, nose or mouth of someone else, the infection can be transmitted.

Most of the cases in the current outbreak are people caring for their sick relatives or preparing their bodies for burial. But health workers treating the sick are also at high risk:

“The outbreak is affecting a large number of doctors, nurses and other health care workers, one of the most essential resources for containing an outbreak,”

Chan said at one point during her speech. Just yesterday, Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor who had treated over 100 patients, died from the disease himself. It was a massive blow to the country’s efforts to battle the disease.

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan is considered a national hero in Sierra Leone (Photo: Reuters)

The W.H.O. says that the $100 million plan “identifies the need” for hundreds of additional personnel in the region. A statement they released said,

“Of greatest need are clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilization experts, logisticians and data managers.”

The CDC has said that the chances of the outbreak spreading across the Atlantic and taking hold in the United States is slim, mainly because people have to come into direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluid to get the virus.

However, they are still preparing for what they call the “remote possibility” that the outbreak does come to the States.

Read more from The New York Times here.

Groundbreaking New Malaria Vaccine Could Receive Approval as Soon As 2015

Every minute, a child dies from malaria. According to the World Health Organization, 3.4 billion people, nearly half of the Earth’s entire population, are at risk for the disease.

Though malaria rates have dropped by 42% since 2000, the disease is still expected to kill anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 people this year, with the majority of them being children under the age of five. In fact, malaria is the third largest killer of children worldwide.

We have been slowly but surely lessening the effects of malaria worldwide in the past 15 years. Click to enlarge

And while improving medical technologies and practices have been steadily reducing the number of malaria-related deaths, there is no proven vaccine against the disease.

But a promising new vaccine created by pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) may be about to change that.

The vaccine can’t prevent  every single case of malaria, but it has proven to have a very significant impact. During multiple trials of the vaccine, researchers found that on average about 800 cases of malaria could be prevented for every 1,000 children who got the vaccine.

In the most advanced of these trials, 1,500 children in several different African countries received the vaccine. 18 months later, researchers found that the vaccine had nearly halved the number of malaria infections in small children.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the center of the malaria crisis. 90% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa. Click to enlarge

The testing also suggests that the vaccine’s impact becomes even more pronounced in areas that have particularly high infection rates.

For example, in a number of Kenyan cities, the researchers were able to prevent about 2,000 cases of malaria with only 1,000 vaccines (many people in the area contract the disease multiple times).

GSK has now applied for regulatory approval of the vaccine from the European Medicine’s Authority. This is the first malaria vaccine to ever reach that step.

Sanjeev Krishna is a professor of Molecular Parasitology and Medicine at St. George’s University of London. He was one of the scientists who peer-reviewed the study before it was published in the journal PLOS Medicine. He had his to say:

“This is a milestone. The landscape of malaria vaccine development is littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right and centre…

We need to keep a watchful eye for adverse events but everything appears on track for the vaccine to be approved as early as next year.”

Read more from the BBC here.

If you want to learn more about malaria, these 10 quick facts about the disease from the World Health Organization is a good place to start.

New Discovery: HIV Can “Cut and Paste” In Our Genome, Allowing Us To Use It to Repair Genetic Conditions

Researchers in the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University in Denmark just did something truly amazing: they altered particles of the HIV virus to simultaneously “cut and paste” within our genome. Here’s Jacob Giehm Mikkelsen, associate genetics professor at Aarhus:

“Now we can simultaneously cut out the part of the genome that is broken in sick cells, and patch the gap that arises in the genetic information which we have removed from the genome. The new aspect here is that we can bring the scissors and the patch together in the HIV particles in a fashion that no one else has done before.”

The technology will allow doctors to repair the human genome in a new way, and will also be invaluable in the treatment of hereditary and viral diseases as well.

HIV particles (yellow) infecting a human T-cell (Image: NIAID/NIH)

The cutting and pasting process isn’t actually a new one- we have been able to “cut and paste” parts of the genome using cells for a while now. The problem with this process, however, is that these cells would keep producing more “scissors”. Mikkelson explains,

“In the past, the gene for the scissors has been transferred to the cells, which is dangerous because the cell keeps on producing scissors which can start cutting uncontrollably. But because we make the scissors in the form of a protein, they only cut for a few hours, after which they are broken down. And we ensure that the virus particle also brings along a small piece of genetic material to patch the hole… We call this a ‘hit-and-run’ technique because the process is fast and leaves no traces.”

We have known for years that HIV particles can be turned into transporters of genetic information. However, this new discovery that they can also be altered to carry proteins that can have a direct effect on infected cells, rather than just on the genes, is huge.

Artist rendition of the HIV virus (Image: Russel Kightley)

Ironically enough, HIV infection is one of the main fields in which the researchers plan to employ this new process. Here’s post-doctoral professor Yujia Cai, who was also part of the research team:

“By altering relevant cells in the immune system (T cells) we can make them resistant to HIV infection and perhaps even at the same time also equip them with genes that help fight HIV. So in this way HIV can in time become a tool in the fight against HIV.”

Read more from Aarhus University News here.

So You’re Telling Me That the Tobacco Plant Holds the Key to Destroying Cancer??

As crazy as it sounds, it sure looks like it.

Scientists led by Dr. Mark Hulett of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science in Melbourne, Australia, have been examining the inner defense mechanisms of the tobacco plant.

Recently, they identified a molecule known as NaD1 which the plant typically uses to fight off fungi and bacteria, but they were shocked to find that it also destroys cancer cells. The molecule basically forms pincers which attach themselves to lipids in the cell membrane of a cancerous cell and then rips them open, causing the cell to release its contents and explode.

Flowering Tobacco plant

Here’s Dr. Hulett speaking on the doscovery:

“There is some irony in the fact that a powerful defence mechanism against cancer is found in the flower of a species of ornamental tobacco plant, but this is a welcome discovery, whatever the origin … The next step is to undertake pre-clinical studies to determine what role NaD1 might be able to play in treating cancer … So far the preliminary trials have looked promising.”

One of the reasons researchers are so excited about this discovery is the “clean” way in which NaD1 does its work. Most cancer treatments in use today are fairly indiscriminate, often destroying a large number of healthy cells along with the cancerous ones. NaD1, however, has little to no effect on the healthy cells according to the study published on Friday (4/4) in the scientific journal eLife.

Dr. Mark Hulett (left) with fellow researcher Dr. Marc Kvansakul (Photo: Supplied)

Hulett is confident in NaD1’s potential for human treatment, and adds that it may have an impact not only on cancer treatment but in other aspects of medicine:

“We’ve discovered the workings of this universal defence process, which could also potentially be harnessed for the development of other therapeutic applications, including antibiotic treatment for microbial infections.”

Read more from The Daily Mail here.

Feature image courtesy of BayHealth.