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Medicine

Submission + - New species-jumping infection discovered. (sciencemag.org)

RockDoctor writes: Diseases caused by organisms moving from one host to another host, and then becoming more virulent in the process, or starting to spread even further, are well known and a cause of real concern to doctors — of both humans and animals. For example, Anthrax has long been known as an annoying disease of cattle, but when humans become infected with the spores it can become both dangerous and be transmitted human-to-human. The haemmoragic fevers (examples : Ebola and Marburg viruses) are more nasty examples. In the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s, barbaric and cannibalistic livestock management practices led to the movement of the disease scrapie from sheep (where it has been known for centuries) into cattle and then into humans with a human death toll likely to reach the thousands.

Veterinary scientists in Belgium, German and the Netherlands are concerned about a new disease emerging in their cattle, sheep and goat herds. While the associated fever and loss of milk production are economically concerning, the disease also leads to many still births and developmental disorders in the foetuses such as hydraencephaly ("water on the brain") and scoliosis (curvature of the spine). Which are frequently disabling if not lethal.

The causative organism has been identified as a virus in a family transmitted by mosquitoes and midges. Related viruses are known to infect cattle, sheep, buffalo, camels, dogs and (ominously) "other species". That is a fairly wide spread of target organisms, which would mean that animal-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out on principle.

"[These]viruses have been neglected for a long time, and we just don't know a lot about them," says a researcher, than adding "The problem with [them] is that their segmented genome makes the emergence of new combinations very easy, just like with influenza viruses,"

In a dig at the insanity of patent systems, the article adds "In order not to lose time and to answer the most pressing questions fast, [a research centre] has decided not to file for any patents on [this virus]-related discoveries. "Our resources are limited," [another researcher] says, "and we are happy to share our knowledge and materials with anyone interested in it for noncommercial or commercial reasons."

My joy at hearing this news is immeasurable, since getting bitten by midges is a normal part of my summer hill-walking. Just what the world needs ; another novel disease coming out of the unknown!

Medicine

Submission + - Concerns over popular contraceptive and AIDS infec (thecitizen.co.tz)

RockDoctor writes: The Citizen (of Dar) is reporting that the WHO and others are concerned about claims that use of popular hormonal contraceptives (oral and injectable such as Depo-Provera) is associated with increased infection rates by AIDS in both the women receiving the contraceptive and their male partners.

Spottily reported in the popular press, the reports are based on a paper presented in The Lancet Infectious Diseases on October 4th. (Paper online here) Transmission rates from men to women were 3.78(/100 person-years) without use of the contraceptives and 6.61 (same units) with the contraceptive. The corresponding figures from women to men were 1.51 and 2.61 (it is well known that it is twice as hard for men to catch HIV as it is for women to catch it).

The study refers to transmission within a couple, discounting infection that comes from outside the couple (all couples had one member who was HIV positive at the start of the study). The results were corrected to account for (reported) condom use (which disposes of my immediate explanatory hypothesis).

Over the expected duration of the HIV epidemic, this may account for a few million to a few tens of million deaths. As such, it is probably of less significance then the launch of another iPhone.

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