Swine flu brain pop

22 06 2009

Rather good UK children’s animated production explains the current swine flu novel Mexican A/H1N1 influenza outbreak.

Some innacuracies, but its hard to tell exactly how dated this might be. Still, definitely good enough at explaining key concepts effectively for schoolchildren

Hattip: Malaysia SMS

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Scabies treatment uptake in regional indigenous communities

21 06 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgIn doing some background research for this blog entry, I discovered scabies causes 1 death in Australia per year. Yikes!

That aside, the point of this blog was to help illustrate that health is not just about big killer diseases. And that non-lethal diseases are not issues that do not need to be taken seriously. A non-lethal disease like scabies still represents a burden on the community. It drains on health resources, it also drains on family resources, and can also be a source of conflict and agitation.

This paper is an Australian study published through PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, it examines scabies and treatment uptake in two rural Aboriginal communities in northern Australia. A number of factors lead to these communities experiencing a high burden of scabies infestation – including distance from resources, household overcrowding and high mobility between households. Those most at risk are young children.

In general, the best known way to control endemic scabies is through community-based mass treatment initiatives. However these initiatives require community awareness and cooperation in order to be successful. This study looked to not only measure levels of cooperation and success, but also what barriers exist in the community that might hinder such initiatives.

Scabies is primarily an inflammatory condition caused by the bodies reaction to burrowing behaviour and eggs laid by the scabies mite (pictured to the left). In Australia, the approved treatment for scabies is a topical cream, permethin that is applied to the entire body. In the study, a “Healthy Skin Day” was held in the community, and all community members were advised to utilise the cream over an 8-day period. The study then followed those households in which at one or more cases of childhood scabies were subsequently identified.

If a child was diagnosed with scabies, the parent was given cream to use not only on the child, but every other member of the household. Not only is this because there is likely to be others not diagnosed but affected in the same household, but the mites are likely to just leave the treated person and go over to new host.

As expected scabies susceptibility was lower in households that experienced universal treatment. However, while 80% of children directly diagnosed with scabies used the supplied creams, compliance rates amongst other people advised to follow the treatment because of someone else in the household being diagnosed was less satisfactory (44% of these persons used the cream). Just over three quarters of households had at least one household member not take the treatment, and in almost a fifth no one followed the treatment. The study also noted that treatment cooperative households were more likley to remain in the study, meaning that if anything these statistics are possibly over-estimating compliance rates.

There were multiple factors that contributed to treatment not being followed through: treatment not being a priority, treatment was not considered necessary, and treatment caused discomfort. The first two of these responses point to issues in education and trust. The community needs to be aware of the burden of disease on the community, and the benefits of treatment. Trust is a more trickier issue, as the relationship between indigenous communities and the government is one giant elephant that I’m not quite ready to take on that I’m not quite wanting to take on at the moment. The last points to a question of whether the proscribed treatment is appropriate for these communities.

The authors point out that in a hot, crowded environment, a sticky cream-like substance is possibly not the most enjoyable of treatments to experience. The cream also needs to be washed off in the morning, and with drought and water access also being an issue in regional communities, provides further complications with treatment compliance. Sadly while creams like permethin are the only treatments available in Australia at present, oral treatments for scabies do exist and would seem on the front a more acceptable treatment for the tropical environment. Pills might also be considered more like “real working medicine” and therefore encourage higher rates of compliance.

This study, while obviously not carried out with unlimited resources, does a very good job at highlighting the multiple factors that complicate rural health.


La Vincente, S., Kearns, T., Connors, C., Cameron, S., Carapetis, J., & Andrews, R. (2009). Community Management of Endemic Scabies in Remote Aboriginal Communities of Northern Australia: Low Treatment Uptake and High Ongoing Acquisition PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 3 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000444

Image credit: Scabies by MacAllenBrothers





Oils ain’t oils: the essentials

2 06 2009

ResearchBlogging.orgYou may have noticed my general feeling about so-called “alternative medicine” is that there is no “alternative” to medicine. One of my friends puts it another way:

Q. What do you call an alternative medicine that works?

A. Medicine.

There is no grand pharmaceutical conspiracy against natural remedies. Once a treatment demonstrates value to medical science, it will become accepted as medicine. That’s why, while you last month science bloggers descended upon a laughably flawed acupuncture study flouted as proof of effect and tore it to pieces, I doubt there’ll be a similar response at this a new international study currently in print that shows essential oils may have a role to play in combating infections caused by multi-resistant microbes.

It’s actually quite a well done study, with interesting results that provide an opportunity for the complementary medicine industry to clean up it’s act and get on board with whole evidence-based medicine paradigm, rather than remaining in the realm of snake oil and shamanism.

Read the rest of this entry »





Townsville 1; Bolivia 18

7 03 2009

Not quite the competition you want to be winning though.

Northern Queensland is currently suffering the worst dengue fever epidemic “since WWII“. Last reports I heard, cases were over 200, outbreaks of all four types of dengue have been reported, and the first casualty had occured last week.

Hopefully it will serve as a reminder that appropriate anti-mosquito health regulations on domestic gardens, water tank filters and other breeding grounds do need to be followed – or there can be dire consequences.

However it also important to note that Bolivia is currently suffering from its own dengue epidemic. Wikipedia puts cases around 31,000 and deaths at 18.





Armchair biologists

30 12 2008

Can armchair biology work?

Armchair science is where science began. Before organised and well funded institutes were about, a lot of scientists were self funded home-based ventures.

Science at home has suffered a few setbacks. They took the fun stuff out of chemistry kits. And even if you do find a decent kit, you might be arrested for making drugs and/or explosives under terrorism laws.

So chemistry as a hobby is expensive, hazardous and possibly illegal.

What about biology?

There is a little discussion at the sci-borg collective about recent news that people are attempting molecular biology (cloning, design-your-own organisms) at home.

Pure Pedantry thinks it won’t end the world. Which is fair to say. But Discovering Biology in a Digital World points out some of the real dangers. Namely, cloning usually involves potential pathogenic organisms and antibiotic resistance – not the best things to be playing around in your kitchen.

While it’s cool that people are enthusiastic about science and wanting to engage in future technologies, it’s good to remember there was a reason further than mere regulation and technophobia over why chemistry kits got dumbed down. Some science stuff isn’t safe to be messing about with at home. Particularly in your kitchen where you prepare your food.

Science that deals with microbes, carcinogens and cold storage really needs a dedicated space. That’s why I like the idea of Community Centers with lab-rooms and storage for hire, along with amateur training courses. This sort of activity should definitely be encouraged.

The best thing about future technology though is that these days biology can be done on a computer over the internet. Bioinformatics at home is a very safe, low labour activity that really only needs a computer and an internet connection.

While I too am skeptical of amatuers making “new vaccines”. I do think some more “simple” breakthroughs are possible –  bio-based tools such as biofuels, indicators and environmental solutions – remember that Canadian kid who developed bacteria that break down plastic bag polymers.





i am a fish

16 12 2008

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Sorry.

I just finished this fantastic book.

Go. Find it. And learn.

Jellyfish have eyes. Your nipples are teeth. Tadpoles hiccup to survive.

Oh … and just how evolution means you are undeniably linked to every single other living thing that is, was, and ever will exist.

Stars a certain transitional fossil. I just lost the game.

Nathan has a review of Your Inner Fish in this month’s Critical Mass (Sydney Atheists’ newsletter)

Further apologies would also go to Arnold J Rimmer, if he wasn’t such a smeghead.





Water bears in space

23 09 2008

Those naming committees are just not playing fair.

News from space this month the story of the first animals to survive the harsh extreme environment of space – “water bears” (not space bears).

Nature has now gone access-only. So read a summary over at Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Water bears, or Tardigrades, are practically microscopic (the largest are dust-speck sized at best – 1.5mm) but they are true animals. There are around 1000 species in a rather unique phylum Tardigrada that is sister to Arthropoda and Onychophora (velvet worms).

The secret to their hardiness in extreme environments – not limited to extreme temperature, dessication, pressure, radiation (all useful resistances* for space farers) – is going into a uber-hibernation-torpor state called cryptobiosis, essentially stopping all metabolic activity. They basically turn themselves into husk or spore of their former selves that will reawaken when conditions are right. You just add water back to your tardigrade spore and it comes back to life, a lot like sea monkeys, actually exactly like sea monkeys (one of the most common examples of cryptobiosis^).

One of the comments at Nature News:

The Genome of these animals, water bears and others such as pup fish and microbes living in extreme conditions should be sequenced. It would reveal a lot about disease and environmental resistance that would be useful for human health

Nature News 09 Sep, 2008 Posted by: Richard Dawson

We’re on top of it Richard. Currently, the genome of Hypsibius dujardini is undergoing sequencing, chosen because of its small and compact genome. More information on water bears and their genomics can be found at Genomicron. Hopefully factors behind its extremophilic abilities will be uncovered, and exploited.

*can I pretend it’s not an RPG reference?

^I think the freezing frog is much cooler