A Way to Predict Ebola Outbreaks?

Researchers have identified a possible link between deforestation and the emergence of Ebola outbreaks. There is evidence that Ebola outbreaks are likely to occur within 2 years of forest loss.

This new research also suggests that preventing the loss of forests could reduce the likelihood of future outbreaks. “We have accumulated knowledge that removing forests causes problems not just to the functioning of the climate and ecosystems but also to humans, then we must see it as a threat to human livelihoods, health, security and everything else,” said Fa – a Senior Associate at CIFOR and a Professor of Human Development and Biodiversity at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom.

When forests are destroyed, the animals that live in them are displaced. The Ebola virus is transmitted from wild animals, such as fruit bats or apes.

The forests should not be protected for the sake conservation alone but also for health reasons, according to Lutwama, a Virologist at the Uganda Virus Institute. “People should keep the forests,” he said.

 

 

The Post Antibiotic World Is Coming for All of Us

We are all dependent on antibiotics. Many of us likely take them for granted. As discussed here and here, the world is running out of effective antibiotics. Increasing antibiotic resistance means not being able to treat what we consider today to be regular, run of the mill infections.

Chris Linaman, a “superbug survivor” has shared his story to raise awareness of the danger and devastation of antibiotic resistance. Linaman was recovering from ACL surgery with no complications, until one morning when he woke up with a massively swollen knee. He was diagnosed with MRSA and had emergency surgery. A few days after being sent home from the hospital, he developed a high fever of 105 degrees and was found almost unconscious. As Linaman describes:

Luckily, the spinal tap showed the infection had not yet gotten to my brain. But I needed to have even more surgeries to get rid of it, and I also lost my epidermis—the outer layer of my skin—over my entire body, due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they were using to treat me…My leg muscles were wrecked from all of the surgeries, and it took extensive physical therapy to get me back to anything resembling normal…

Beyond the physical trauma, the whole ordeal also nearly ruined our family financially, and it was emotionally devastating as well. At the time, our two kids were just 2 and 4 years old, and they didn’t understand what was going on. It still breaks my heart to think about it. Those were the darkest days of my life, and, honestly, it’s hard to believe that I’m still here…

As horrible as my MRSA infection was, I’m the “good” outcome—I survived. Way too many others have not.

After recovering, Linaman went on to work as an executive chef at a medical center. One thing Linaman and other experts have stressed is the importance of reducing animal use of antibiotics. Linaman created a policy that “prioritizes bringing healthy food to our community and gives preference to food producers who are working to reduce antibiotic use.”

So we need to do anything and everything we can to conserve these lifesaving drugs so that they work when they’re needed—that includes making sure antibiotics are used appropriately and only when necessary—both in people and in animals.”

World AIDS Day

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. Globally, it’s estimated there are 36.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS. There were approximately 1.8 million new infections in 2016, many occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. In the U.S., there are about 1.1 million people living with HIV and roughly 1 in 7 don’t know it.

It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

NPR has an article about, Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, who started an HIV/AIDS non profit in Uganda. His group, the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project, provides education to children who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS. Kaguri sees World AIDS Day as a helpful way to raise donations, but notes:

“What is frustrating is that people only think about the issue for just one day, then go on to something else,” he says. “Someone will give us a $50 check on World AIDS Day and think that they saved the world … until another World AIDS Day comes along…”

Many countries still don’t talk about infection rates in their countries. South Africa [where 19 percent of the adult population is HIV-positive] still has leadership that denies HIV/AIDS is a problem, like former president Thabo Mbeki. And [in 2006, former president] Jacob Zuma was caught sleeping with a prostitute. When they asked him if he was worried about contracting HIV/AIDS, he said, “Oh no, I took a shower after we had sex.” The country has put a blanket over its head when it comes to HIV/AIDS.

As a complement to World AIDS Day, the WHO is promoting the “right to health” theme, as a way to “highlight the need for all 36.7 million people living with HIV and those who are vulnerable and affected by the epidemic, to reach the goal of universal health coverage.”

For more info:

The Worst Cholera Outbreak in History

The size of the cholera epidemic in Yemen is hard to grasp. According to an article in the Guardian in October:

The World Health Organization has reported more than 815,000 suspected cases of the disease in Yemen and 2,156 deaths. About 4,000 suspected cases are being reported daily, more than half of which are among children under 18. Children under five account for a quarter of all cases.

Those statistics, which are really thousands upon thousands of helpless people and children dying terribly tragic deaths, are sobering.

The spread of the outbreak, which has quickly surpassed Haiti as the biggest since modern records began in 1949, has been exacerbated by hunger and malnutrition. While there were 815,000 cases of cholera in Haiti between 2010 and 2017, Yemen has exceeded that number in just six months.

Save the Children has warned that, at the current rate of infection, the number of cases will reach seven figures before the turn of the year, 60% of which will be among children.

Tamer Kirolos, Save the Children’s country director for Yemen, said an outbreak of this scale and speed is “what you get when a country is brought to its knees by conflict, when a healthcare system is on the brink of collapse, when its children are starving, and when its people are blocked from getting the medical treatment they need”.

Kirolos said: “There’s no doubt this is a man-made crisis. Cholera only rears its head when there’s a complete and total breakdown in sanitation.

There is perhaps a glimmer of optimism, however small, as the rate of new cases have started to slow, and the mortality rate has begun to decline. Cholera is easily preventable and treatable with access to clean water and oral re-hydration salts, but in a war ravaged country like Yemen, those things are often insurmountable challenges.

“Whatever decline we’re seeing now is due to the heroic efforts of workers at the scene,” said Sherin Varkey, the officiating representative of Unicef Yemen.

Varkey said the situation would not be solved until there was peace in the country.

“There are no signals that give us any reason for optimism. We know that both parties to the conflict are continuing with their blatant disregard of the rights of children,” he said. “We’re at a cliff and we’re staring down and it is bottomless. There seems to be no hope.

California’s Hepatitis A Outbreak and the Importance of Bathrooms

Access to safe and clean bathrooms is important for several reasons, one of which is disease prevention. Lack of access to safe and clean bathrooms is a major reason the hepatitis A outbreak in California has been quick to spread and hard to halt.

Hepatitis A is a liver disease transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person, according to the WHO. The risk of hepatitis A is strongly associated with lack of safe water, and poor sanitation and hygiene.  Although California’s hepatitis A outbreak has been linked to the transient homeless population, according to the WHO the virus is also “one of the most frequent causes of foodborne infection.” So nothing is safe, as usual.

As of November 10, San Diego had reported 546 cases of the disease and 20 deaths. There are signs the outbreak is slowing and efforts to vaccinate the homeless population against hepatitis A are proving effective. According to The San Diego Tribune:

Last week…local health providers forwarded only eight possible hepatitis A cases to the health department for further investigation. There have been no new deaths, leaving the outbreak total at 20 for the second straight week.

It’s the lowest weekly new case total since the outbreak began, eventually launching a vast, multmilllion-dollar campaign to improve sanitation and housing conditions for the homeless.

What could still go wrong? The physician noted that the outbreak could still jump into another demographic population such as gay men who are considered at an elevated risk of hepatitis A infection. Because the virus’s incubation period can last up to 50 days, there is still a chance, he added, that an infected person could have exposed a large number of people who simply have not started to show symptoms yet.

In addition to the homeless and drug users, high-risk groups are those with compromised immune systems, existing liver disease and gay men. Public-facing job classifications also recommended for vaccination include food handlers, first responders and health care workers.

 

Another article in The San Diego Tribune notes that the city built a 2 million dollar restroom in 2014, “designed by an artist to invoke “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” the popular 1970 novella about a seagull who wanted to be special.” While the restroom building looks pretty, many point out that the money could have been better spent on more restrooms to serve the city’s large homeless population, potentially avoiding such a massive outbreak. According to the article:

The city was warned repeatedly as far back as 2000 that human waste on city streets was a problem that threatened public health, and that there was a shortage of 24-hour public restrooms available to the city’s growing homeless population downtown.

In 2005, city officials shot down a grand jury recommendation calling for more toilets to address the shortage. City officials said the facilities could cost up to $250,000 each to buy and install, plus another $65,000 per year to maintain, and the city did not have “the resources to execute a project of this magnitude.”

Based on those cost estimates, the $2 million spent on the seagull-themed restroom could have paid for four such facilities and operated them for 16 years.