Category: Department of Infectious Disease

What is the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and what do we know about the outbreak so far?

What is the ‘Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV)’ and what do we know about it so far?
Dr John Tregoning (JT) from Imperial’s Department of Infectious Disease spoke to the School of Public Health’s Prof Steven Riley (SR) about the coronavirus outbreak that recently began in Wuhan, China.


Who has been working on the outbreak epidemiology at Imperial College London?

SR: I work as part of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease  Analysis and the Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics centre with Professor Neil Ferguson, Dr Natsuko Imai, Dr Ilaria Dorigatti and Dr Anne Cori.

So what is this new coronavirus?

SR: It is a viral infection that was first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019 that has been associated with a number of cases of pneumonia – an infection of the tissue in the lungs. You might see it being called ‘2019-nCoV’, which stand for novel (or new) coronavirus. More information has been provided by the World Health Organisation. (more…)

Alive and ticking: Is Lyme disease on the rise in the UK?

Lyme disease UK

Justin Bieber’s recent Lyme disease diagnosis has brought the disease into the public eye. Professor Gareth Tudor-Williams explores whether there is a link between tick behaviour and a rise in reported cases.


It’s a fact that every time a high profile individual reveals that they have Lyme disease – the latest being singer Justin Bieber – there is an appreciable spike in internet searches, followed a short while later by an increase in the number of blood samples being sent for testing to the Public Health England national reference laboratory at Porton Down.

So this trend would suggest that the publicity about Lyme disease increases health-seeking behaviour in this country, which in turn leads to more cases being diagnosed.

All of which begs several questions. Is the incidence truly rising or are more people being diagnosed who would not previously have been tested? Are there significant numbers of people living in the UK with undiagnosed and therefore untreated infection?  What proportion of untreated infected individuals develop long-term health problems? (more…)

Governments need scientists to shape a brighter, evidence-based future

Dr Julia Makinde
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.

Our second is Dr Julia Makinde, an HIV researcher at the IAVI Human Immunology Lab, who makes the case for translating science into policy.


A dearth of advisers

A section of the nativity story portrays Herod the Great as something of a tyrant. A man who sanctioned an order to wipe out every male infant born in and around Bethlehem in a pre-emptive action to eliminate the threat of a new-born king. As difficult as it is to imagine anyone, let alone a political leader, endorsing the massacre of innocent children, the story presents an interesting metaphor of complex political motivations and the outcome of a breakdown in the process of policy making.

With vaccinations, climate change and access to healthcare taking centre stage in the global debate, the intersection between science and policy has never been more relevant. Whilst I started out in research with the desire to help create solutions to global healthcare challenges, I have come to understand that the actions taken to disseminate research outcomes are just as important as the process of discovery itself. (more…)

My mental health and academia: an open letter

mental health academia

As part of UK Disability History Month, Dr Catherine Kibirige reflects on her mental health journey and how she’s using her experiences to help others.


My name is Dr Catherine Kibirige and I’m a Research Associate at Imperial, based at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.  

I have a mental health disability. It’s been a difficult journey accepting this, and this is the first time I’ve publicly disclosed it. For a long time, I didn’t want to believe that I had a “mental illness”, or that I was disabled. The funny thing is, once I accepted these things, it’s allowed me to do better and to feel more capable than I have done before. Here in the UK, we’re currently celebrating Disability History Month. In celebration of this, I wanted to share my story and how the College has helped and supported me.     (more…)

HTLV-1: Time to care, time to take action

HTLV-1

Ahead of the WHO Global Consultation on HTLV-1, Professor Graham Taylor outlines three steps to prioritise the neglected cancer-causing virus.


“I couldn’t do anything for a week after I opened the letter and saw that I was infected with it. I saw H and thought I had HIV. I’d never heard of HTLV”.

It’s not the first time that I’ve heard this, but this was two days ago, almost 40 years since the report in 1980 of the discovery of the human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1). Sadly Janet* is joined in her lack of awareness not only by almost the entire general public but also by most healthcare professionals.

This weekend saw World HTLV Day marked for the second year, with the slogan is: ‘It’s time to care’. This is in response to a general perception that there is a widespread indifference toward HTLV. Hopefully this will change soon. This week, I fly to Tokyo to participate in a WHO Global Consultation on HTLV-1 to address the public health impact and implications of this little-known virus. (more…)

20 Years at Imperial: what have I learnt?

Marking 20 years since Dr John Tregoning arrived at Imperial College London as a PhD student, he reflects on what he’s learnt over his career to date.


On 1 October 1999, I walked out of South Kensington tube station, fresh-faced and ready to start my PhD. 20 years later as I walk out of the same tube station to the same campus of the same university (still fresh-faced I like to think), the question is, have I learnt anything?

Spoiler alert – the answer is yes, but a guarded yes, from a staggeringly low starting point, like Marianas Trench low. Some of what I have learned is fairly niche and only useful if you work in a biomedical lab – like how to open a tightly screwed plastic tube with one hand whilst avoiding infecting yourself with influenza, some are a bit more generally applicable to having a career in science, especially if you are or want to run your own research group, and some grandiosely I think might be applicable to everyone.

School’s out

Working in a university, this may be a bit unnecessary to point out, but education never ends: we are continually learning and evolving. Even if you were able to recall all the facts from school into adulthood it is likely that they are now either outdated or completely irrelevant to the work you do. We need to retrain: to become parents, to become managers, to change roles, to retire gracefully. And for these new roles, there is no pass/fail test to say how well you have done, it is all a bit woolly. So we need effective strategies to learn for life: both for ourselves and for the others – students, children, co-workers – that we might need to train. (more…)

The mystery of the typhoid toxin

Typhoid toxin

Dr Malick Gibani unravels the mystery behind the role of typhoid toxin in causing typhoid fever  – a disease that affects around 11 million people each year globally.


Salmonella Typhi is a fascinatingly complex bacterium. Whilst there are more than 2000 different (sero)types of Salmonella, there’s something special about Salmonella Typhi that sets it apart from the non-typhoidal Salmonella serovars. It causes different symptoms, the means of spread are different and the host it infects is different – specifically, Salmonella Typhi only causes disease in humans.

Understanding the mechanisms of how bacteria can cause disease is profoundly important for vaccine development. The Vi-antigen that forms the major component of injectable typhoid vaccines seems to have a key role in making the bacteria more virulent (hence the name). Vi-based vaccines have proven to be highly effective tools to prevent typhoid. (more…)

Nature wants you dead – here’s how vaccines work to help keep us all alive

 

Dr John Tregoning takes us on a tour of vaccination’s greatest successes, explaining how this incredible human achievement works to keep us all safer from disease – as long as we keep vaccinating ourselves and our families.


Nature wants you dead. Not just you, but your children and unborn children and everyone you have ever met.

It wants you to cough and sneeze and poop yourself into an early grave. If it can, it wants you your blood vessels to burst and pustules to explode all over your body. Put simply, Nature is trying to kill you.

And until relatively recently, it was really good at doing this. The average life expectancy of a human in 1900 was 31 years. I should already be dead.

But then science intervened with two critical innovations, clean water and vaccines, and changed everything. Clean water has had the biggest impact, but vaccines are a close second. (more…)

Convincing my daughter that our research in malaria matters

On World Malaria Day, Dr Aubrey Cunnington’s daughter spends the day at his lab to learn how his team’s research is contributing to tackling malaria. 


25 April is a special day in my calendar this year for two reasons. First, it is World Malaria Day – a chance for malaria researchers and many others to unite to raise awareness of this dreadful disease which kills over 400,000 people every year. Second, it is “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” for my 13-year old’s school, and she has chosen to spend the day with me at Imperial College London. I’m flattered but I’m also worried, because she can be my harshest critic, and on World Malaria Day I want to convince her (and everyone else) that my research is making a difference against malaria.

So what will it take to impress my 13-year old daughter, and perhaps give her the confidence and inspiration for a career? Looking for help, I ask my research team how they would explain their work to a 13-year old. Despite worried expressions, they are all up for giving it a go. (more…)

Tackling drug resistant infection through collaborative global action

Imperial’s Dr Esmita Charani and Dr Jamal Uddin, Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF), observing field work surveillance conducted by CHRF healthcare workers in Bangladesh as part of the demographic and disease surveillance initiatives aimed at reducing childhood morbidity and mortality.

Ahead of the recent G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Professor Alison Holmes explained in an article for G20 Magazine why global collaboration is essential to minimising the impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on healthcare.


The world faces the unprecedented challenge of drug resistant infection due to increasing AMR. Concerted global action is needed to address this pressing and alarming public health issue. Without a strong, unified response, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will not be met, and valuable progress will be lost.

The need for leadership

The continued inclusion of AMR in the G20 agenda, under the leadership of Argentina, is greatly welcomed. This year I was invited to speak in Buenos Aires on initiatives to optimise antibiotic use, at the International Congress on Infectious Diseases, co-hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of Argentina. The ethos of shared learning and strong leadership was central in our discussions, and considered fundamental to effective action. (more…)