Dentists Dying of Mystery Lung Disease

The CDC has identified a cluster of lung disease cases among dentists and dental workers who were treated at a Virginia care center. All were diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), “a chronic, progressive lung disease of unknown cause and associated with a poor prognosis.”

Seven of the nine patients have died. According to the CDC, the estimated survival rate after diagnosis is only 3–5 years. “Although IPF has been associated with certain occupations, no published data exist regarding IPF in dentists” so the CDC is anxious to find out the cause:

 A questionnaire was administered to one of the living patients, who reported polishing dental appliances and preparing amalgams and impressions without respiratory protection. Substances used during these tasks contained silica, polyvinyl siloxane, alginate, and other compounds with known or potential respiratory toxicity.

Although the cause of IPF is unknown, the CDC says that “exposures that have been suggested as contributing factors include viral infections, cigarette smoking, and occupations where exposure to dust, wood dust, and metal dust are common.”

Mumps Are Nothing to Cheer About

Thousands upon thousands of cheerleaders who were at the National Cheerleaders Association All-Star National Championship in Dallas, Texas in February may have been exposed to mumps by a fellow attendee. According to NBC, “more than 23,000 cheerleaders and 2,600 coaches from 39 states and nine countries have been advised to watch for mumps symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and swollen jaw and cheeks.”

According to the CDC, mumps is spread through the saliva or mucous and in rare cases can cause deafness or brain swelling. Most people who get mumps have very mild symptoms or none at all (which means they may unknowingly spread the virus) and many will recover in a few weeks.

Most people who are vaccinated against measles with the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) are protected. Many are vaccinated as children, and the mumps portion of the vaccine is estimated to be 88% effective with two doses. However, “In 2016, 6,366 cases were reported — the worst year for mumps in the U.S. since the MMR vaccine program was introduced in 1977.” Another glowing achievement of the anti-vaxxer movement perhaps?

Measles on the Loose in New York City

Health officials in New York are making sure people are aware that an Australian tourist with measles visited multiple hotels and the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this month. Measles is incredibly contagious and is spread through the air via coughing and sneezing. According to the CDC, the virus can survive in the air for up to two hours. Symptoms usually begin 7 to 14 days after exposure and may include high fever and cough, followed by a rash. Measles may cause serious complications, like pneumonia and encephalitis, which are more likely to lead to death in young children. The vaccine’s effectiveness rate is around 90%.

In the United States and elsewhere, lower vaccine rates have been associated with the anti-vaccine movement, led by people who mistakenly believe vaccines cause autism. I have no doubt the government is out to get us, and I am all for conspiracy theories, but that’s not what is happening here. The Washington Post notes:

Despite global efforts to combat the disease, measles has remained a serious threat, mostly to children in the developing world. In 2016, there were 89,780 measles deaths worldwide, the first year the figure dipped below six figures, the World Health Organization said

The disease has sometimes roared back in the United States in incidents tied to anti-vaxxer efforts. For instance, MMR vaccines in Somali communities in Minnesota dropped 50 percentage points from 2004 to 2014 because of activist work there, sparking the worst measles outbreak in the state in three decades.

Ebola’s Friend: Lassa Fever

A large outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria has people worried. The area is observing an unusually high number of cases this year. As of February 18, there have been 913 cases and 73 deaths, compared to 733 cases and 71 deaths in all of 2017.

Like Ebola, Lassa fever is a hemorrhagic fever, though considered less serious than Ebola. According the WHO, Lassa fever usually starts with a fever and progresses to a headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases there may fluid in the lungs, and bleeding from the mouth, nose or other areas. In the most advanced stage of the disease shock, seizures, and coma may occur. In fatal cases, death usually occurs within 14 days of the onset. The drug Ribavirin, given via IV, is considered an effective treatment for Lassa fever if given within 6 days of the onset of symptoms.

What’s causing such a large outbreak? According to Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, a couple things may be at play: Improved detection, and that Nigeria’s growing population has brought people closer to the disease host: the infamous rat.

According to NPR:

“West Africa’s dry winters push rodents closer to people to scavenge for food. Virus-carrying rats may defecate or urinate in grains and other food; people can pick up the virus from contact with contaminated products. The virus can also spread between people via bodily fluids. And there are a lot of rats – which means there’s a lot of potential for outbreaks.”

The WHO is scaling up its response to the outbreak, and heath officials are urging people to keep food in sealed containers, as well as limit the proximity of garbage to homes.


Beware the Flu, Part Four

Flu is still on the rise, according to the CDC. Alarming headlines like “The Flu is Killing Up to 4,000 Americans a Week” and stories of kidsteenagers, and young people dying are popping up all over. Another article tells the story of a woman who contracted two different strains of the flu at different times; the second flu ultimately leading to her death.

There are signs of a slowdown along the Canadian border and the West Coast but overall cases are expected to rise in the coming weeks, according to CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund. She adds that anytime H3N2 strains are dominant, “we tend to see more severe disease more hospitalizations, more deaths.” In addition, it’s possible we are seeing a second wave of Influenza B infections.


As a reminder, you can still get a flu shot! The flu shot can lessen the severity of flu symptoms. And please don’t “forget” to wash your hands. I am forever astounded by the number of people I see use the bathroom and not wash their hand with soap and water. Don’t be a blockhead, wash your hands.

Beware the Flu
Beware the Flu, Part Two
Beware the Flu, Part Three