Pandemic in perspective

20 06 2009

Fear of disease vs. death toll
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Pandemic is not a synonym for crisis

1 06 2009

…necessarily. In this case it’s more SNAFU.

I read this weekend’s Sunday Herald during lunch today. There was a double page spread on the growing “Swine Flu Crisis!” (251 Infected!*).

While I’m not sure if this graph is actually based on real figures, it does put the pandemic in perspective:
song chart memes
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The threat of Mexican flu is quite relative. This strain may only turn out as bad as regular flu. But regular flu isn’t something to sniff at. Each year influenza occurs on a pandemic scale, this kills about 250,000 – 500,000 worldwide. So when the health authorities are saying “this is just like seasonal influenza”, they may be quite right to downplay the threat, but there is still a threat – SNAFU.

Was that enough mixed messages?

 

Hattip for GraphJam: Cheshire

*It’s now over 300, but didn’t reach 800. Either Mexican flu (or the testing labs) took the weekend off, or it’s possibly slowing down.





At least its not leeches

17 10 2008

Adverse immune reactions are a serious issue in modern medicine. Not just for transplants, but for ultra-modern molecular therapies – such as enzyme replacement therapy, or genetic therapy – making sure your body does not decide to destroy that expensive medicine can be an issue. Sometime this means giving patients immunosuppressants, drugs that turn off the immune system. This is obviously risky, leaving such patients open to infection and cancer development.

Parasites and other wee beasties have evolved very complex mechanisms to evade our immune systems. So looking at them for clues on how to develop better drug delivery systems is a good idea. Some researchers are looking at promising chemical produced by schistosome eggs that may benefit gene therapy. Schistosomes cause schistosomosis which ranks no. 2, behind malaria, as the parasite-caused disease with most global impact.

This molecule goes into the cells nucleus and binds to DNA, making sure the therapeutic genes get to where they are meant to rather than just floating around in your bloodstream. This may prove less risky than using viral vectors.





Human parasite’s goody two shoes cousin helps coral

28 08 2008

Malaria is one of the most important infectious diseases under study today. It has been with us since early medical history, and still persists as a major global threat.

The disease is caused by a parasite – a multicellular microorganism. Not just a simple bacteria, the malaria plasmodium is a complex critter that still remains quite mysterious. It is very hard to work with in the laboratory: it doesn’t culture well and the risks involved are immense.

The discovery of a non-infectious relative (albeit, rather distant) by Australian researchers is exciting news for many.

Paydirt hasn’t quite been hit as far as medical research. However the fun isn’t just for medicos, but the evolutionary biologists as well.

Chromera velia is clearly related to Plasmodium parasites, but rather than being a blood-borne obligate parasite of mammals and insects that rarely sees light of day, it is a plankton-like photosynthesising obligate symbiont of corals.

These long-lost cousins are so very different, it could almost make the ghost script of the next Wil Farrell comedy (or not, besides its been done before).

Can they really be from the same origin?

The evidence is convincing.

For more information, take a read of a great interview (it says so in the title) with the scientists responsible for the discovery, as well as the University of Sydney press release.

Image: Copyright University of Sydney. Use only for non-commercial and educational purposes with attribution.