Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015

This year’s Nobel Prize is awarded to three scientists for their discovery of novel therapies against infections caused by parasites.

One half of the prize goes to Youyou Tu for the discovery of artemisinin, used to treat malaria. The other half is shared by William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura for the discovery of Avermectin, the derivatives of which are used to fight river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

More details in the press release.

6-week online course on vaccinology

The Pasteur Institute, together with the CNAM, offers a free online course on vaccines. The course has just started and will go on for 6 weeks, so still time to have a look!

“The objective of this course is to offer an integrated overview of vaccinology, from public health and scientific data justifying the development of a vaccine, to its delivery to the populations in the context of industrialized and developing countries.”

Note: the course is aimed at people with some scientific/medical background, so some parts may be a bit difficult to follow for lay persons; nevertheless, there should be some more general/introductory videos from which anyone can learn at least a little something!

Measles-induced immune amnesia

Measles is no trifling childhood disease. The virus is extremely contagious, and measles infection can have severe complications, such as pneumonia, encephalitis, brain damage, and death. Now, a recent study published in Science suggests that measles can also leave children more vulnerable to other pathogens for as long as two to three years after infection.

Mass measles vaccination is known to be associated with a general reduction in childhood mortality. In every country where it has been introduced, it has been followed by a decrease in the number of childhood deaths, not just from measles, but also from other non-measles infectious diseases.

Why is that? How can a vaccine designed to protect you from measles also protect you from other infectious diseases? Continue reading

Modeling an epidemic to help guide public health policies (Ebola, West Africa)

Projected daily hospital demand in 2015 for Ebola patients in Liberia if 85% of cases are hospitalized.By mid-December 2014, about 18,000 individuals had been reported to be infected by the Ebola virus currently causing an epidemic in West Africa. On January 12, 2015, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest report stated an updated total of more than 21,000 cases. As a substantial proportion of cases remain unreported, however, the true number of infected individuals is believed to be much higher. The fatality rate (the proportion of infected people dying from the infection) for this Ebola epidemic, based on known cases, is estimated to be about 70%. Continue reading

Four questions about the Ebola virus

In its 30 October issue, the journal Nature published a news feature about some of the scientific questions surrounding the Ebola virus and more generally the family of viruses it belongs to. If you are interested in knowing more about Ebola, I recommend reading the whole article (free access). Alternatively, here are the main points: Continue reading

Pediatric respiratory tract infections and antibiotics: overprescribing?

10344775_815628761791470_2583354142570698374_nAntimicrobial resistance is a serious threat to human health. As the WHO global report published in April 2014 highlighted, it is no longer a concern for the future but happening right now, in every part of the world. It threatens to undo many of the achievements of modern medicine that allow people to live longer and healthier.

A number of concerted actions are needed to tackle the resistance problem, and one of them is to improve the way antibiotics are currently used, both in agriculture and in medicine. Mostly, this means curbing antibiotics use.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics in October tried to assess how often antibiotics were prescribed in cases of acute respiratory tract infections in children in the US in relation to how often these infections actually involved bacteria (many of these infections are indeed caused by viruses). Continue reading