Thursday, June 30, 2011

How safe are vaccines?

Two very readable articles on the vaccine issue from the popular press.

First, How Safe are Vaccines? - a 2008 article from Time magazine.

CDC officials estimate that fully vaccinating all U.S. children born in a given year from birth to adolescence saves 33,000 lives, prevents 14 million infections and saves $10 billion in medical costs. Part of the reason is that the vaccinations protect not only the kids who receive the shots but also those who can't receive them—such as newborns and cancer patients with suppressed immune systems. These vulnerable folks depend on riding the so-called herd-immunity effect. 

and secondly, An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All - an article from Wired magazine at the end of 2009.

“I used to say that the tide would turn when children started to die. Well, children have started to die,” Offit says, frowning as he ticks off recent fatal cases of meningitis in unvaccinated children in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. “So now I’ve changed it to ‘when enough children start to die.’ Because obviously, we’re not there yet.”

Note that the Wired article attracted 690 comments! I think I remember reading in a following issue that this story attracted more letters and comments than any other story they had ever run.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


It's traditional that at this point in the course I post this video.
For those who wish to know more about the flagellants of the middle-ages we mentioned today here's the Google article, the rather interesting Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the flagellants it links to and, above, a demonstration, albeit not from the middle ages, by German rock band Rammstein also courtesy of Google. That's the band beating themselves there and they seem to be really putting some effort into it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Rise of Superbugs

From an article in The Atlantic last week. Well worth a read:

The Rise of 'Superbugs': Time to End a Decades-Long Problem By Frances Beinecke
We've known since the mid-'70s that feeding animals antibiotics is dangerous—but we haven't changed our ways

All 27 EU nations have already successfully stopped using antibiotics for growth promotion. Denmark, the world's largest pork exporter, ended the practice over a decade ago, and industry data have shown a sustained decrease in overall antibiotic use and the amount of drug-resistant bacteria found in livestock and meat products. At the same time, livestock production has grown and prices have remained stable.

The American National Academy of Sciences estimated in 1999 that if we were to take similar steps in the U.S. to eliminate
all non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, it would cost grocery shoppers less than $10 annually. That's less than $13.50 per year in today's dollars. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

BCG after all...

There's an unusual story making the rounds this weekend - I saw it in the LA times:
Is BCG a cure for diabetes?
The first trial in a handful of humans has suggested that injecting patients with Type 1 diabetes with an inexpensive vaccine normally used to prevent tuberculosis can block destruction of insulin-secreting pancreatic cells in humans and allow regeneration of the pancreas. Such a finding, if confirmed and expanded on, could lay the foundation for freeing the estimated 1 million U.S. Type 1 diabetics from their daily insulin shots. It brings up a word that is rarely or never used in considering the disease: "cure." 

So maybe the BCG vaccine will become more popular in the US - but as a cure for diabetes?!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New TB Vaccine

The current Tb vaccine, the BCG vaccine, has been in use since 1921 and there are concerns that its protection may wear off over time - ie the protection given by the vaccine is not lifelong.

A new vaccine, with the catchy name MVA85A has recently passed clinical trials but, unfortunately it doesn't seem to work as well when given with other vaccines:

MVA85A was deemed to be safe, well tolerated and induced a strong immune response. And importantly, the responses to the standard childhood vaccines were not affected by giving MVA85A at the same time. But the immune response prompted by MVA85A was lower in infants who received it with standard childhood vaccines, compared with those who got it alone.
"It's reassuring to see that MVA85A does not affect immunity to the other vaccines," said Helen McShane of Oxford University, who helped develop the new shot. But she said scientists would now need to find the best way to integrate MVA85A into infant immunization plans in future without limiting its effect.

Report,  New TB Vaccine Passes Safety Tests, But proves less effective when given with other immunizations at Voice of America.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rock 'n roll disease history moment

Link Wray was an aspiring musician when he contracted Tuberculosis during the Korean war and ultimately had a lung removed. Doctors apparently advised him that his singing career was over - I guess in those days a full complement of lungs was considered necessary for a vocalist. Wray devoted himself to his guitar, completely revolutionizing the way the instrument was used.

Quite simply, Link Wray invented the power chord, the major modus operandi of modern rock guitarists. Listen to any of the tracks he recorded between Rumble in 1958 through his Swan recordings in the early '60s and you'll hear the blueprints for heavy metal, thrash, you name it.
(All Music biography of Link Wray)

Wray's most distinctive record, Rumble, also has the distinction of being banned on several radio stations in the United States on the grounds that it glorified juvenile delinquency. An impressive feat for a song with no lyrics.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cholera - next stop Chad and the Ivory Coast

Heavy rains in a number of African countries bring the threat of Cholera;

Rainy season to worsen Chad cholera outbreak - Oxfam
A cholera outbreak that has killed more than 100 people in Chad could worsen this June as the rainy season starts in the Central African country, Oxfam warned on Wednesday.

The Chadian government says only 0.6 percent of the country’s households use improved latrines, while 88 percent of people defecate in the open. There is no garbage collection system in villages, while in towns waste water disposal and storm drainage systems are nearly nonexistent.
UNICEF responds to cholera outbreak in Ivory Coast
 Following the confirmation of 10 cases of cholera in the Koumassi district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, UNICEF has provided medical supplies to local health authorities to treat up to 1,000 patients infected with the disease and kits with soap, chlorine, and water treatment products for 400,000 people.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Welcome to the blog for EEMB40 - the Ecology of Disease - for Summer 2011. It will also serve as a class website and you will find links to lectures etc. in a box at the top right imaginatively called 'links'. Lecture slides will be available shortly after each lecture. They are put there for your convenience (you don't need to scribble down details of a graph because you know it will be available later) but please note that they are not designed to be lecture notes. In fact in most cases my slides would make very poor notes. In order to help you take notes I have made a glossary for the class - also linked on the right. All the terminology you will be required to know is listed in the glossary.

You are all welcome, and encouraged to post here. To do that all you need to do is to send me an e-mail saying just that. I will then add your address and google will send you an invitation to be an author. Just follow the simple instructions and away you go.

Postings to the blog should be relevant to the class but the blog is specifically designed to be a place where you don't need to worry about how relevant your post is. (I give you 'Basket full of puppies' as an example). I will be posting lots of things that I read in the news or that I take out of lecture (for time purposes) but that some of you may find interesting. By putting it here you can look at it at your leisure and you know it won't be on the exam.

I try to post every day when the class is running and, where possible, the postings are relevant to the current topics we are covering in class. You can access older postings (there are over 750 (!) of them from the previous times I have taught this class) by using the 'Labels' (scroll down and they'll be on the right hand side) to pull up posts on particular topics.