Tag Archives | Disease

Killer Fungus Spreading In U.S. & Canada

Amanda Gardner reports on the deadly fungus for CNN:

A rare but life-threatening tropical fungus that causes lung infections in both people and animals has been seen in the Pacific Northwest and could spread, researchers are reporting.

The fungus, known as Cryptococcus gattii (or C. gattii), has infected dozens of humans and animals–including cats, dogs, and dolphins–in Washington and Oregon in the past five years. While rare, the fungus has been lethal in about 25 percent of the people in the U.S. who have developed infections, according to Edmond Byrnes III, a doctoral student in molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University and one of the lead authors of a new study about the fungus.

In the study, Byrnes and his colleagues analyzed 18 cases in people and 21 in animals that occurred in the U.S. between 2005 and 2009.

The symptoms of infection include chest pain, a persistent cough, shortness of breath, fever, and weight loss.

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Looking at Sick People Gives Your Immune System a Boost

Sick Person

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov (CC)

Start here. Erica Ho writes on Lifehacker:

According to a University of British Columbia study, looking at sick people can boost your immune system. (Hanging around them does not.) That means you’re better equipped to fight a cold after merely looking at the picture in this post. (You’re welcome!)

In the study, young adults were asked to watch a 10-minute slide show containing a series of unpleasant photographs. Some pictures included people who looked obviously ill in some way.

The subjects’ blood samples were then tested for levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a substance produced by the immune system that indicates your immune system is ramping up to more aggressively fight infection.

As a control, pictures of people brandishing guns were also used on some participants—and they barely resulted in a significant increase in IL-6 production, signifying that IL-6 production is not simply a reaction to stress.

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Researchers Turn Mosquitoes Into Flying Vaccinators

MosquitoesThanks scientists for taking mosquitoes from an “annoying” level to now a plot line for a super-villain. Martin Enserink writes on ScienceNOW:

Here’s a study to file under “unworkable but very cool.” A group of Japanese researchers has developed a mosquito that spreads vaccine instead of disease. Even the researchers admit, however, that regulatory and ethical problems will prevent the critters from ever taking wing — at least for the delivery of human vaccines.

Scientists have dreamed up various ways to tinker with insects’ DNA to fight disease. One option is to create strains of mosquitoes that are resistant to infections with parasites or viruses, or that are unable to pass the pathogens on to humans. These would somehow have to replace the natural, disease-bearing mosquitoes, which is a tall order. Another strategy closer to becoming reality is to release transgenic mosquitoes that, when they mate with wild-type counterparts, don’t produce viable offspring.

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Skin Cells Turned Directly Into Neurons

By Clive Cookson for the Financial Times:

Stem cell scientists at Stanford University in California announced “a huge step forward” last night, with the publication of research that turned skin into nerve cells without any intermediate step.

The production of neurons [nerve cells] directly from other adult cells, without making stem cells en route, could transform “regenerative medicine” – providing a plentiful supply of neurons for treating people with degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s or those with spinal injuries.

“We actively and directly induced one cell type to become a completely different cell type,” said Marius Wernig of Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. “These are fully functional neurons. They can do all the principal things that neurons in the brain do.”…

[continues at the Financial Times]

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Nitrates From Processed Foods and Fertilizers in Water Cause Alzheimer’s, Diabetes

Not much of a surprise is it? Add nitrates to your food or your water: say hello to disease. As reported in Medical News Today:

A new study by researchers at Rhode Island Hospital have found a substantial link between increased levels of nitrates in our environment and food, with increased deaths from diseases, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes mellitus and Parkinson’s. The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Volume 17:3 July 2009).

Led by Suzanne de la Monte, MD, MPH, of Rhode Island Hospital, researchers studied the trends in mortality rates due to diseases that are associated with aging, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and cerebrovascular disease, as well as HIV. They found strong parallels between age adjusted increases in death rate from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes and the progressive increases in human exposure to nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines through processed and preserved foods as well as fertilizers.

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Tamiflu In Rivers Could Breed Drug-Resistant Super-Flu Strain

Wired writes about a frightening discovery made by Japanese scientists: rivers around the world are being contaminated with Tamiflu, the premier flu-fighting medicine, as users excrete it in their urine.

What’s the big deal? Birds, who are carriers of influenza, are being exposed to the waterborne Tamiflu residues and might develop and spread drug-resistant trains of seasonal and avian flu.

If scientists’ measurements are right, concentrations of Tamiflu in natural bodies of water are now “high enough to lead to antiviral resistance in waterfowl.” And, Tamiflu contamination will only rise in the coming winter months, as seasonal and swine flu hit the population.

Will Tamiflu sow the seeds of the next great pandemic?

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