In a lead editorial in the current Nature, John Wilbanks (formerly head of Science Commons, now "Chief Commons Officer" for Sage Bionetworks) and Eric Topol (professor of genomics at the Scripps Institute) decry the mass privatization of health data by tech startups, who're using a combination of side-deals with health authorities/insurers and technological lockups to amass huge databases of vital health information that is not copyrighted or copyrightable, but is nevertheless walled off from open research, investigation and replication.
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The resurgence of the bed bug caught modern civilization flatfooted: an ancient pestilence dating back to the Pharoahs, gone for two generations, has returned with a vengeance, infesting fancy hotels and slums alike, lining our streets with mattresses spraypainted with the warning BEDBUGS. Infested
, science writer Brooke Borel's natural history of the bed bug, looks at the bug's insurgency as a scientific, cultural, and economic phenomenon, and will leave you itching with delight.
Phytophthora ramorum is a mold, related to the Irish Potato Famine pathogen, that causes some oak and tanoak trees to split open and bleed out all their sap, something called "sudden oak death."
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In Evaluation of the potential for virus dispersal during hand drying: a comparison of three methods, published in The Journal of Applied Microbiology, researchers from the University of Westminster showed that viruses applied to rubber gloves were aerosolized by Dyson Handblade hand-dryers and spread further than viruses and other germs would be by conventional hand-dryers or paper towels.
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The deadly infectious diseases that were eradicated in America during the 20th century are now roaring back, thanks to growing poverty, failing sanitation, and underinvestment in science and health research and regulation.
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Unvaccinated people are being officially warned by California epidemiologists to avoid Disneyland in the wake of a measles outbreak. In some counties in California, more than 1 in 5 kindergartners are unvaccinated due to "personal belief exemptions." Read the rest
The decades since the collapse of the USSR are the longest period of depopulation in Russian history, and the first peacetime loss of that scale anywhere in the world. Booze, violence, obesity, and poor standard of living alone don't account for the mortality either.
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MERS — the deadly coronavirus related to SARS — has infected 77 people in the Middle East (that we're aware of
) and killed half of them (as far as we know). Now, scientists are starting to look for its source and they're focusing in on two animals
that have lots of opportunity to interact with local populations in Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Read the rest
The Epidemic Intelligence Service is the crack CDC team that investigates new diseases. (If you want to read more about them, I'd recommend checking out Maryn McKenna's Beating Back the Devil
.) Now, you can play Epidemic Intelligence operative at home, with the CDC's new iPad app game, Solve the Outbreak
. Fulfill all your childhood, Hot Zone
-induced fantasies! Read the rest
Learn your letters — from "anthrax" to "zoonoses".
The crab-louse is in apparent decline, a situation that some doctors and entomologists attribute to widespread Brazilian waxing. Though, as Skepchick points out, there's a huge industry that stands to make a lot of money from this claim, and not a lot of evidence to back it up:
“Pubic grooming has led to a severe depletion of crab louse populations,” said Ian F. Burgess, a medical entomologist with Insect Research & Development Ltd. in Cambridge, England. “Add to that other aspects of body hair depilation, and you can see an environmental disaster in the making for this species.”
...“We put the flag out, so to speak, if we see a case of pubic lice nowadays,” [Janet Wilson, a consultant in sexual health and HIV] said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The ‘habitat destruction’ of the pubic lice is increasing and they are becoming an endangered species.”
Brazilian Bikini Waxes Make Crab Lice Endangered Species [Jason Gale & Shannon Pettypiece/Bloomberg]
(Image: Crab Louse (Phthirus pubis), a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from euthman's photostream)
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Here's some evidence supporting the idea that the increase in autism diagnoses is just that — an increase in diagnoses, not an increase in incidence. Increases in autism diagnosis aren't evenly spread around the country. There are hotspots. Researchers found that kids who move into these hotspots — even after an age where autism might have been normally diagnosed — have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with autism than kids to didn't. It suggests that awareness and resources might play a big role in rates of autism diagnosis
. (Via Micah Allen) Read the rest
Meet the robot that pukes for science.
Researchers at MIT used network theory to put together a model of how an infectious disease might spread around the world with the help of American airports. The model shows which features—geography, connectivity, levels of use—most impact the spread of disease and use that to predict which airports would be at the heart of an outbreak.
Some are not a shock. ("Oh, you say JFK and LAX could serve as worldwide hubs for disease?") But the model also reveals some surprising spark points. Like, say, Anchorage. It's also interesting to see the order that the model ranks airports in. Would you believe that Honolulu has more disease-spreading power than Atlanta?
Read the full journal article at PLOS One, an open-access scientific journal.
Read a short summary at the Nature Medicine blog Read the rest
At Discover's big-idea blog The Crux, Emily Willingham has a really interesting post about the prevalence of autism—is it actually increasing, or is this really about medical definitions and increased attention?
This is a topic we've talked about here on BoingBoing before, most recently back in March, when Steve Silberman offered some scientific evidence that suggests the ostensible increases in autism prevalence are "caused" by more accurate diagnosis.
But Willingham's piece adds a couple of new, interesting details to that still-emerging story. Being more aware of neurodiversity makes it look like there's more neurodiversity than there was before we were aware of it. And that was true even for the guy who invented the diagnosis of autism.
Leo Kanner first described autism almost 70 years ago, in 1944. Before that, autism didn’t exist as far as clinicians were concerned, and its official prevalence was, therefore, zero. There were, obviously, people with autism, but they were simply considered insane. Kanner himself noted in a 1965 paper that after he identified this entity, “almost overnight, the country seemed to be populated by a multitude of autistic children,” a trend that became noticeable in other countries, too, he said.
...by 1953, one autism expert was warning about the “abuse of the diagnosis of autism” because it “threatens to become a fashion.”
Read the rest of Willingham's piece, which includes a detailed look at several different studies that back up this view of autism with evidence. It looks like the majority of the "increase" in diagnoses can really be attributed to the process of diagnosis itself. Read the rest
Having listened to Radiolab
describe the origins and early history of HIV yesterday, I found this press release particularly fascinating. The World Health Organization is investigating an outbreak of an unknown disease in Cambodia.
The disease begins with a fever, then progresses into neurological symptoms and very quickly to respiratory failure. All the recorded cases have been in children. 62 children were admitted to hospitals with these symptoms. 61 have died. (I should note that this doesn't necessarily mean that whatever this is has a 98% kill rate. We're only talking about the people whose symptoms were severe enough that they ended up in a hospital. There could be many more asymptomatic or mild cases.)
(Via John Rennie
) Read the rest
Spoiler is an independently produced 17-minute horror/science fiction movie that illuminates the kinds of cold equations that have to be solved in pandemic outbreaks. In this case, it's the story of the coroners who keep the zombie plague under control after it's been beaten back. It's a good twist on the traditional zombie movie, and hits a sweet spot of sorrow and horror that you get with the best zombie stories.
The zombie apocalypse happened -- and we won.
But though society has recovered, the threat of infection is always there -- and Los Angeles coroner Tommy Rossman is the man they call when things go wrong.
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