Monday, October 13, 2014

What's worse than Ebola?

PBS News released a story reporting worse diseases than Ebola. What are they?

Enterovirus D-68: This virus is killing children around the country but particularly in the midwest. Unlike Ebola, EV-D68 spreads like the common cold, only much deadlier.

Measles: This preventable disease is making a comeback due to people failing to vaccinate putting their children at risk.

Whooping Cough: This disease has begun escaping control by vaccination resulting in almost 50,000 cases in the US.

Drug-resistant bacteria: Whether it's MRSA, VRSA, MDR-TB, XDR-TB or TDR-TB, they're coming.

RSV: Respiratory viral infection in babies requiring hospitalization.

Influenza and pneumonia: Both yearly infections and pandemic strains of influenza can resulting in severe pneumonia, particularly in kids and the elderly.

So, while Ebola is scary, it's not as worrisome as these six.

This is a personal blog. The views expressed herein may not represent those of my employer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

There is no MMR-autism link

Another paper claiming an MMR vaccine-autism link has been retracted before publication. This was a re-analysis of old data but the author intentionally manipulated the data so intensely to force it to show the conclusion they wanted. We have statistics just for this reason. But if you change the data you can change the statistics too. 

That leaves the number of credible scientific papers showing a link between vaccines and autism at ZERO (0) using more than 4 million data points.

This is a personal blog. The views expressed herein may not represent those of my employer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Laniakea: Our home

Never knew that we lived here? Neither did anyone else until astronomers recently were able to map the position of galaxies in our region of the universe. By estimating their motions based on gravity, they were able to identify separate groups of galaxies called superclusters. We have know for a while now that space is not uniformly pocketed with galaxies but they are found in groups. Until now, however, the groupings were fairly random. The Milky Way Galaxy is on the fringe of a network of  galaxies all being pulled by gravity toward a central attractor.

Watch the animation for more information.

This is a personal blog. The views expressed herein may not represent those of my employer.

Ebola arrives in Texas

CDC reports confirm that a patient in Dallas, TX was hospitalized with the Ebola virus infection. This is the first case of Ebola outside Africa in this current epidemic and the first ever in the US. The patient remains in strict isolation as CDC officials seek to track down all of his close contacts for testing and treatment. Important to note, Ebola is not transmitted through the air. You must be in close contact and exchange bodily fluids with the infected individual. This makes it easier for the CDC to prevent an epidemic in the US.

The CDC has released the following timeline of the patient's infection.

  • September 19: The adult patient boards a flight to the U.S. in Liberia after being screened for Ebola symptoms
  • September 20: The patient arrives in the United States
  • September 24: Patient shows first symptoms of Ebola
  • September 26: Patient seeks initial medical care
  • September 28: Patient admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas

  • This patient brought Ebola to the US in 1 day before showing symptoms of infection. As I have written earlier, commercialization allows for the rapid transit of infected patients from endemic countries to countries that haven't seen the disease in years (or in the case of Ebola, ever). This is a tremendous example of the potential for infectious diseases to cross boundaries, so please vaccinate yourself and your children with safe and available vaccines.

    Relatedly, drug companies have started testing the safety of potential Ebola vaccines. They may be coming soon to a pharmacy near you.

    This is a personal blog. The views expressed herein may not represent those of my employer.

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Vaccines - Calling the shots

    Kudos to NOVA!  They did a fantastic job detailing the benefits of vaccination and the challenges of getting the populace to listen to doctors about vaccinations and not the hyped up social media. Yes, vaccinations today are effective and safer than the alternative of catching the disease but they are not without risk. But neither is driving your car or crossing the street. However, vaccination is much better than contracting a terrible, preventable disease and ending up in the hospital or dying.

    NOVA didn't just say vaccines are safe and go get vaccinated. They went deeper to convince the populace that vaccines are worthwhile. They talked with doctors who vaccinate their own kids, mothers of autistic children who are convinced that the vaccine did NOT cause the autism, and survivors of extreme (and rare) complications of vaccines who said they would get vaccinated again or vaccinate their own children.

    I encourage everyone to watch this and not the rants on social media about vaccinations. They are not doctors/scientists.

    This is a personal blog. The views expressed herein may not represent those of my employer.

    Tuesday, September 9, 2014

    Start of the Ebola virus outbreak

    Recent genetic studies of the Ebola viruses circulating in west Africa revealed that the current outbreak was sparked by at least two different Ebola virus strains. It is unclear whether these two strains were co-transmitted, that is transmitted into the human population at the same time, or whether they arrived separately but at a similar time. Furthermore, these studies suggest that the current strains of Ebola virus spread from within central Africa, perhaps through fruit bats, a known vector, into western Africa. Certain fruit bats known to carry Ebola virus have a population range from central to western Africa into the hardest hit regions.

    Most concerning is that these studies demonstrate the virus to be changing fairly quickly. This includes the sites used to confirm infection and those targeted by vaccines and antibody-based therapies. If sufficient changes in the genome accumulate the virus may not only become hard to kill, but also hard to detect. Without current PCR-based tests, diagnose would be challenging and time consuming, leading to death of the patient before confirmation of infection and initiation of a treatment plan.

    This is a personal blog. The views expressed herein may not represent those of my employer.

    Friday, September 5, 2014

    Grand distances

    Conveniently, following my last posting, recent data was published confirming the distance to the Pleiades star cluster. Many are familiar with this cluster of bright stars as the Seven Sisters in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. This star system was measured to 136.2 parsecs away by very long baseline radio interferometry (VLBI). Not that that means much to any of us. The important part is the distance.

    The Pleiades is one of the closest star clusters. But what is 136.2 parsecs? In more familiar units, this is 444.22 light-years away. Meaning that traveling at the speed of light (300,000 km/s) it would take 444 years to reach the Pleiades. Conversely, the light we see now from the Pleiades left those stars in 1570 to just now arrive.

    But, let's think of this in more down-to-earth terms. Assuming that you could drive non-stop at 80 miles/hour, it would take 3,721,765,913.75 years to reach the Pleiades. That's 3.7 BILLION years. And those stars are close.

    So, if we are alone, it's an awful waste of space. But that also means that unless we (or other sentient aliens) develop faster than light travel, it's going to be a long time until we meet anyone from those stars.

    This is a personal blog. The views expressed herein may not represent those of my employer.