Month: July 2010

Influenza Research update

It’s been a busy week for Influenza researchers. A multitude of reports have been released documenting new findings.

– A group of NIH scientists have developed a vaccine that protects mice from the 1918 flu strain. This was accomplished by identifying antibodies (Ab) which neutralize the virus.

– A H5N1 live vaccine has also been shown to be effective in lab studies. More encouraging news from this discovery is that this particular live vaccine could be effective against different variants of H5N1.

– The vaccine strategy using Virus Like Particles (VLPs) to induce an immune response can make the immune response more robust when confronted against a real virus. VLP strategy can have a wider affect across a wide variety of viruses which vaccines are being developed for.

All of these strategies are just a small number of ways by which vaccines are being developed to combat influenza. There are a couple of general strategies for vaccine development, using the virus itself or using the DNA of the virus to develop a vaccine.  The work being done to combat influenza can have a influence on development of vaccines for other viruses of medical importance.

Reports via:

Emerging Bulletin 1

A Request for Information (RFI) has been released in the case of a series of deaths in Japanese Macaque monkeys. The monkeys were housed at the Kyoto Primate Research Center. The monkeys died from a mysterious hemorrhagic disease similar to Ebola. Reports have stated that the disease has not affected humans and the disease may be unique to Japanese Macaques. This incident is under investigation via lab testing and collaborative discussions with other organizations.

Source: (Archived 20100709.2307)

A Primer on Reemerging/Emerging Diseases

Disease has been on earth as long as there has been life. All types of life on earth is affected in some fashion by disease. Bacteria, Viruses, Parasites, Fungus and even a newer form called Prions cause disease ranging from mild to fatal.  During the golden age of Microbiology, new knowledge was learned by research which builds the basic level of facts we now have on controlling the spread of disease.  Joseph Lister developed techniques which are the basis for aseptic techniques in modern surgery. Louis Pasteur in his research determined that bacteria does not spontaneously generate but instead bacteria must be introduced into a system for infection to take place. Pasteur was a scientist very much ahead of his time, but he was criticized by his colleagues for being a quack and challenging what was the common thinking of all scientists at this time.

The discoveries of Lister and Pasteur paved the way for the discovery of Penicillin in 1928 by Sir Alexander Fleming. Until Fleming discovered penicillin by accident in his lab, Sulfa Drugs were the best weapon that medicine had against the ravages of bacterial disease. Penicillin was called the “magic bullet” and hailed as the end of bacterial disease as it was known. The timing of this discovery was key as now medicine had to turn it’s attention to viral diseases to create vaccines which could reduce deaths from childhood diseases like Rubella and Measles.

Over the  82 years since the discovery of penicillin, medicine, science and public health have worked (sometimes together and other times separately) on new forms of antibiotics, vaccines and other cures to diseases from the past and against newer, emerging infections. Great strides have been made as Smallpox was declared eradicated in the 1980’s and currently the World Health Organization (WHO) and it’s member countries are making Polio a priority for eradication by the next decade worldwide. However, as the microbial soup continues to evolve, human behavior changes and major changes occur in the ecology be they man made or natural has presented new challenges for disease control and eradication. HIV, Bird Flu, H1N1 (Swine Flu) and Prion dieases such as Cruzfeld-Jacob Dieases (CJD) are now the major challenges which currently test the limits of scientific discovery, medical intervention and the resources of public health.  Add to this list the ever looming threat of bioterrorism and the potential of millions being affected with Anthrax, Plague or Botulism places additional pressure on the public health preparedness network to ensure that the country is ready in the event of a biological attack.

In the 20th and now the 21st Century, it is conceivable to be on the other side of the world in a matter of hours. Anyone with a slowly incubating disease who boards a plane in New York headed to Europe or Asia can in theory infect many on a plane ride or many that they come in contact with when they arrive at their destination. During this World Cup which will end this Sunday, a traveler from Australia returned home from South Africa with Measles. Travel has had a huge impact on the spread of disease globally. No country can restrict all travel but each country has health guidelines as to who may come into their country.

As I mentioned, travel is not the only factor which has an impact on global spread of disease. Changing ecology can present new diseases that once were not known. Lyme Disease is a prime example of this factor. Edging closer into the realm of nature bought people in contact with deer ticks who are vectors or carriers of the spirochete which causes Lyme disease. Microbial adaption has put us at a crossroad in scientific research in antibiotic creation. Many bacterial diseases have developed mechanisms which allow them to fight off the effectiveness of a majority of antibiotics. Research into the genetics of bacteria as well as viruses will help in discovery of new, more effective drugs. Human Behavior is not something that can be easily controlled. The choices we make, especially in with our bodies have a major impact on ourselves and others. The rise in rates of STD’s nationwide are a prime example of choices made. Coinfections with HIV and Syphilis are common and the combination makes treatment of either disease very difficult.

The factors that contribute to disease have many elements. Each one that I have presented only shows a basic illustration of the issue. Emerging diseases have many elements to their appearance and each can be debated differently by all sides (medicine, research science and public health) as to how each factor plays into the prevalence of the disease in the community.

Bacteria: Friend, Foe or all of the above?

Remember the episode of the Cosby Show, when Rudy catches a cold and Cliff has to take care of her? Cliff’s characterization of what made Rudy sick is probably a common experience and is most likely the first lesson we received about “germs” and their effects. Bacteria have and continue to get a bad rap as only a cause of disease. But did you know that bacteria have positive effects on the lives of humans and other higher organisms? I always begin my beneficial effects of bacteria lecture by posing that question to my students. The most common reaction to my question is disbelief, as if I had just shattered everything they ever learned. The look on their faces says it all: “Bacteria can be useful?” And I commence to explain how this is possible. I think that the reaction that I receive on a consistent basis from students and even from the public at large, that bacteria are all bad, period. I am not saying that the perception is all wrong but the majority of people have it half right and only focus on the ill-effects of bacteria. What are the benefits of bacteria and how do these benefits impact human life?

The relationship between humans and bacteria when beneficial is characterized as commensal or a relationship where neither human nor bacteria is harmed. Bacteria found in and on humans grow and survive with no problems and begin to engage in biological activities which assist human life. One of the most important activities bacteria engage in is protection and immunity from disease. Human skin is the largest and most important body organ. Skin protects muscle, bone and tissue from damage due to everyday movement, sunlight and disease. In addition to the oils naturally secreted by the skin and sweat which contains an enzyme that assists in killing pathogenic or disease causing bacteria, bacterial cells occupy the skin in large numbers. Although bacteria have no problem growing and surviving on the skin, skin is a very poor growth medium because it has a very low pH and is very dry. A large number of bacterial species occupy the skin and maintain a protective barrier against disease causing bacteria. This is only the first line of defense, a disease causing bacteria that enters the skin will trigger an immune reaction which begins a vigorous, second line of defense in fighting off a potential infection.

The human digestive system also benefits greatly from the activity of bacteria. When food is taken in and digested, only a certain amount of nutrients can be taken up from the food by the body. The body needs and requires a number of vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates in order to maintain function and growth. Many of these are available in food directly while others are available but are not able to be used unless they are converted into another form. Bacteria act as the means by which some of these “hidden” nutrients and vitamins are extracted and put into use by the body. Think of bacteria as “factories” which help to break down food, take in the vitamins and nutrients in their inactive form and convert them to the active form that can be taken in and used by humans.

Within the last 15-20 years, there has been a steady increase in the availability of probiotics, supplements of bacterial cultures that when used properly can provide health benefits. Probiotics are not new as they were first identified in the early 20th Century as a method to assist in maintainance of balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria. Further research has shown that probiotics can also help with digestive ailments such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Diarrhea and reduce the chances of ulcers caused by a bacteria named Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). Research into the use of probiotics have been very positive. Many people benefit greatly from their use. There are issues of safety which have not been fully studied and mild side effects do occur such as gas, bloating or a mild bacterial infection. Probiotics and their use illustrate the point very effectively that maintaining a balance in the normal types of bacteria that live in the digestive system with those that could cause harm is a very important function. When harmful bacteria are not kept in check by equally beneficial bacteria, the effects on human life could potentially be fatal.

Bacterial flora balance can increase or decrease due to many factors. Health is a major factor and can change as one becomes older and disease becomes prevalent. If antibiotics are needed, the proper use of antibiotics is key. If antibiotics are used when they are not needed, bacteria could become resistant and harder to treat. Antibiotic resistance is fast becoming a major problem worldwide due to the misuse of antibiotics when they are not needed or having an antibiotic prescribed when a viral infection is diagnosed. Bacteria and viruses are two completely different life forms which require different types of drugs in order to attack and kill them. Antibiotics will not attack viruses but instead will attack the bacteria that is it specified to kill and leave an unbalanced bacterial flora which could cause disease. Other factors include diet, hormonal state and even personal hygiene. Finally, genetic factors can have an effect on the rise and fall of bacterial levels.

Life in general is based on very fine balance in many respects from bacterial levels, to pH (Acid-Base balance). As illustrated in this article, having the right balance of beneficial bacteria has a major role in assisting us in maintaining our health. Bacteria are versatile organisms that reproduce quickly, adapt and evolve far faster than most other living species on earth. We benefit from that versatility when it comes to the role that bacteria play in our body’s defense and digestion. Unfortunately we succumb to that same versatility when we are infected by bacteria. So now, think of bacteria as a frienemy, it can be good at times or it can be bad.


An Introduction to Probiotics. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Website accessed August 30, 2009.

Where Public Health and Biology Meet

Hello out there, and thanks for reading. The purpose of this blog is to present a range of topics relating to Public Health, Science and Health Policy. How many articles or news programs do you watch that actually breakdown the substance of the issue into basic bits of information for you to understand? Probably very few. Also, as biased as the news is becoming it is a miracle that any of us get any clear, concise and non-opinionated information anymore. That is where this blog comes in, presenting information in what I hope will be concise and informative (and hopefully with no opinions). Why? So you can form your own opinion or just be more informed and as the title states have a wealth of information to help you become a healthier you.

What do I ask of you:

1. If you read, please try to comment or ask a question. In fact if you have any topics of interest I will try my level best to address them. (More on that in a minute)

2. Discuss here or with others. Information is a powerful tool and my goal is to educate as many people as possible. My belief is “each one, teach one” or as they like to say on Sportscenter, “Thanks for sharing the knowledge”.

3. Tell a friend. I hope to make this blog interesting to read in simple language and as I said previously with as less opinion as possible. This is a work in progress and I hope you will read along as this blog becomes more refined.

Now that you know the areas of interest (and they are not totallyall my interest areas but they all cover alot of ground) that gives you an idea of the scope of what I would like to share with all of you. However, I would like to also cover basics in Biology and Science in addition to what is going on in the world of public health. Please let me know if there is a topic that interests you and I will give it my best to outline the topic in as basic a manner as possible. I hope to expand this blog into a larger site and possibly use other avenues to get the word out about this blog so stay tuned.