Tag Archives: disease

Coronavirus update

This article about the coronavirus epidemic (the virus is now officially dubbed Covid-19) focuses initially on how the Chinese are even quarantining bank notes in their effort to stem the disease’s spread.

I instead found this quote farther down the page much more significant:

More than 1,380 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 64,400 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions.

The death rate of the disease, even as it has grown, remains about 2%. While tragic, this number suggests this hardly has the makings so far of a worldwide catastrophe. If anything, it appears to be about as deadly as the flu, which isn’t something to take lightly but also does not warrant any need for panic or desperation. The flu in the 2017-2018 season in the U.S. infected an estimated 45 million, killing about 61,000, a far lower death rate but impacting far more people. Like the flu, Covid-19 appears to be more deadly to older patients.

This epidemic needs to be taken seriously, but it so far does not justify any panic.

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Update on coronavirus spread

Link here. As expected, the situation in China continues to be serious and somewhat out of control. The key data point however is this:

The number of confirmed infections across China has risen to 7,711, resulting in 170 deaths. By comparison, there were 5,327 cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China during the 2002-2003 outbreak, although that virus was more deadly, claiming 349 lives.

In about a week the number of those infected has grown exponentially, far far faster than the previous SARS epidemic. In one week it just about passed SARS, which took a year to accumulate the same numbers.

At the same time, coronavirus still appears relatively mild, having produced half the deaths, about 2% of all those infected. This number however can easily rise, as the disease is still in its early stages for the majority of those infected.

So far the detected cases outside of China remain small, but they are also on the rise, including the first detected human-to-human transmission entirely within the U.S.

Once again, it is essential that no one panic over this virus. Its potential danger should also not be poo-pooed. Until we know more, it poses a threat that must be faced.

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Coronavirus update

Link here. In the past five days the number of people known to be infected has grown from about 450 to now more than 1,400, with deaths rising to 41 total. (The rate of deaths to those infected however has dropped, from 5% to less than 1%.) Also, a very small number of cases have been found in other countries throughout the world, limited so far to people who had recently been in the region of China with the most infections.

How serious is this epidemic? The rise in cases in only a week is concerning for sure, as very quickly the numbers are beginning to match the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003, which took a year to get to 8,000 infected. The so-far low death rate however suggests the disease is manageable.

The situation in China however is very serious. They have locked down regions with populations in the multi-millions, and the number of cases might soon strain their health system. Worse, we do not know if the numbers the non-transparent communist government is posting are accurate. There have been numerous rumors all week that the infection count is far higher than what has been publicly revealed. This could be true, or not. The rumors exist because no one trusts the communists to allow the truth to be published.

At the moment it still appears to me that, at least outside of China, the situation is under control. Whether it remains that way we can only wait and see.

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A new virus that mimics polio appears in U.S.

Not good: Several dozen children in twenty-two U.S. states have been struck by a new polio-like virus that causes paralysis.

Sixty-two AFM cases in 22 states have been confirmed in recent weeks, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta said at a news conference today; 65 more are under investigation.

Similar waves occurred in 2014 and 2016, and scientists have fingered a relative of the poliovirus, called enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), as a possible culprit. But the evidence isn’t conclusive yet, and it’s unclear why the virus would only paralyze a small minority of children it infects. Solving these mysteries is urgent because the paralysis can be severe and irreversible. AFM is “pretty rare, but it’s pretty devastating,” says Priya Duggal, a genetic epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, who’s studying whether some patients may have a genetic vulnerability to the virus. “And it appears that it’s cyclical. It’s not going away.”

It appears that in most cases the virus simply causes cold-like symptoms that go away like a cold. In a few cases, however, it produces paralysis.

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Polio returns to Nigeria

Two years after the last previous case and only one year from declaring Nigeria polio-free, two children have been diagnosed with the crippling virus.

They are going to immediately begin immunizing 5 million children in the affected region.

Coincidentally, that area has been the epicenter of an insurgency waged by Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2 million since their fight began in 2009. During Boko Haram’s time in Borno, the group has been responsible for destroying hundreds of health centers, and has caused so much damage in some areas that it has become hard for vaccinators to do their jobs effectively.

One can’t help wondering if these new cases occurred because of this Islamic insurgency.

Posted on the road from Tucson to the Grand Canyon.

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The arrival of two new childhood diseases to America

Link here.

In the span of four months, at least 94 children in 33 U.S. states have developed a devastating form of paralysis with symptoms similar to polio. Some require a ventilator to breathe. And some of the greatest government health minds in the country say they have no idea what’s causing it. At the same time, during the past four months, at least 12 children have died after falling ill with a respiratory virus called Enterovirus D-68 (EV-D68). Again, federal health officials are at a loss to explain the origin of the epidemic.

It appears that the first, now dubbed acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), might be linked to the second.

In a November 7 alert to practitioners, the CDC noted, “the unusual clustering of acute limb weakness occurred against a background of a nationwide outbreak of severe respiratory illness among children due to enterovirus-D68 (EV-D68). Several of the patients in California and nearly half of the 11 cases identified in Colorado had tested positive for EV-D68 from nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs at the time of admission for their neurologic illness. This raised a possible association between these neurologic illnesses and the ongoing outbreak of respiratory disease due to EV-D68.”

Whether both are linked to the flood of illegal immigrant children allowed to enter the U.S. this past summer remains unclear.

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Ebola’s rate of growth

The journal Science provides a detailed analysis of the infection rate of ebola, as well a reasonable estimate of the present and future number of cases.

The article makes two key points. First, the trends “…clearly show that the number of cases has roughly doubled every 3 to 4 weeks and that this trend is continuing. If underreporting gets worse, however, it may be even more difficult to discern such trends.”

Second, there is some good news in the worst effected countries.

The number of new cases in some areas at the epicenter of the outbreak– Kenema and Kailahun districts in Sierra Leone and Liberia’s Lofa county–has been dropping, and that’s not a result of underreporting, says Dye. “It has happened for a sufficiently large number of weeks now that we are confident that it’s a real reduction in incidence on the ground, probably related to control measures,” he says. “Our colleagues working on the ground believe it is too.”

One important factor has been the increase in safe burials, Dye says. (The bodies of Ebola victims are very infections.) People in the affected areas have resisted abandoning traditional burial practices that carry a high risk of infection, but in these three areas, local leaders, supported by WHO and others, have come to advocate a change. If that happens elsewhere, says Dye, “we expect to be able to cut out a substantial amount of infection in the community.”

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A blue flask of viruses

The story of the discovery of Ebola.

The next day—September 29—the package arrived: a cheap plastic thermos flask, shiny and blue. I settled down with Guido Van Der Groen—a shy, funny, fellow Belgian aged about thirty, a few years older than I—and René Delgadillo, a Bolivian postdoc student, to open it up on the lab bench. Nowadays it makes me wince just to think of it. Sure, we were wearing latex gloves—our boss insisted on gloves in the lab but we used no other precautions, no suits or masks of any kind.

We didn’t even imagine the risk we were taking. Indeed, shipping those blood samples in a simple thermos, without any kind of precautions, was an incredibly perilous act. Maybe the world was a simpler, more innocent place in those days, or maybe it was just a lot more reckless.

Unscrewing the thermos, we found a soup of half-melted ice: it was clear that subzero temperatures had not been constantly maintained. And the thermos itself had taken a few knocks, too. One of the test tubes was intact, but there were pieces of a broken tube—its lethal content now mixed up with the ice water—as well as a handwritten note, whose ink had partially bled away into the icy wet.

Read it all. The excerpt is from a book length memoir that looks to me to be a very worthwhile read.

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Russian authorities struggle to contain the spread of African swine fever, a deadly virus that attacks pigs.

Russian authorities struggle to contain the spread of African swine fever, a deadly virus that attacks pigs.

Russian authorities have incinerated tens of thousands of pigs and closed roads in the past few weeks, in an attempt to contain an emerging outbreak of African swine fever, a viral disease so lethal to the animals that it has been likened to Ebola. The spread of the disease comes with a heavy economic toll — last year, the Russian Federation lost 300,000 of the country’s 19 million pigs to swine fever, at an estimated cost of about 7.6 billion roubles (US$240 million).

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U.N. Forces from Nepal introduced cholera to Haiti

We’re here to help you! U.N. rescue forces from Nepal were the ones who introduced cholera to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Soon after the start of the outbreak, which has sickened close to 300,000 people and killed nearly 5000, Haitians fingered the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which has a camp populated by Nepalese soldiers in Mirebalais in the Centre Department, very close to where the first cholera cases occurred. The camp was also blamed in a leaked epidemiological report by a French cholera expert, Renaud Piarroux of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, written at the request of the Haitian government. Several genetic studies showed that the Haitian cholera strain strongly resembled others found recently in South Asia—although none pinpointed Nepal specifically.

Yet some cholera scientists—including Rita Colwell, seen by many as a giant in the field—contended that the bacteria had more likely been present in local waters, and that the outbreak had been triggered by a combination of environmental factors.

Rita Colwell is hardly what I’d call a “giant in the field,” at least nowadays. Though her biography lists a lot of research work, the last decade she has spent most of her time playing politics as a political appointee, going from one government agency to another.

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