Tag: Infectious disease

Give HIV the Finger – National HIV Testing Week 2017

HIV testing week

It is the time of year again for HIV Testing Week!

Coordinated by HIV Prevention England (HPE) since 2012, National HIV Testing week has focused on three main aims:

  • improving awareness of HIV testing, particularly among communities at high-risk
  • increasing opportunities to take the test in clinics and other community settings
  • reducing the number of people diagnosed with HIV at a late stage

This year’s theme is ‘Give HIV the Finger’ – a cheeky reference to the free finger-prick test that people can receive by post, to provide a blood sample for testing without attending a clinic.

HIV in the United Kingdom

According the latest surveillance from Public Health England (PHE), just over 5,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2016; this is an 18% drop compared with 2015.[i] 54% of diagnoses were among gay and bisexual men; 19% and 22% among heterosexual men and women respectively. Late diagnosis is an important predictor of morbidity and premature death in people with HIV. In 2016, 42% diagnoses were made at a late stage of infection when treatment is less effective. (more…)

World Polio Day: edging closer to eradication

Imagine you are running a marathon. You have reached the final mile of a long and arduous journey. You turn the last corner expecting to see the finish line, and instead you see a huge vertical ascent. The finish line is waiting at the top, hundreds of metres above you.

Such is the plight of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In 1988, the year the initiative was launched, polio paralysed an estimated 350,000 people worldwide – roughly 1,000 each day. Over the last three decades, a globally coordinated vaccination campaign has fought the disease back to a few remaining refuges in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. In 2017, wild poliovirus has caused just 12 cases so far.

As we mark the fifth annual World Polio Day, the finish line of the eradication marathon is firmly in sight, but getting there will be a tough climb.

Why has polio proven so hard to vanquish? First and foremost, the disease’s final strongholds are regions of immense political unrest, and news of deadly attacks against vaccination workers are all too familiar. Every step towards polio’s eradication is one that requires those at the front line to put their lives at risk. (more…)

Vaccines are vital


Originally published on the MRC Insight blog and reproduced under CC BY 4.0, here Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial and President of the British Society for Immunology, says we cannot afford to be complacent about vaccines.

As a clinician working in research, I want to improve peoples’ health. The NHS was set up to focus on treating people with disease. But how much better would it be if we could prevent people from getting sick in the first place?

This is where vaccines come in. As vaccinologists, we use our scientific knowledge to design new or improved vaccines to stimulate the immune system. This creates natural protection against infections and prevents disease.

New and improved vaccines

The current vaccines we have are excellent and safe but many could be better. There are also new ways to use vaccines and lots of diseases which do not yet have effective vaccines.

The science of vaccinology advances monthly. There are hundreds of new vaccines at different stages of testing, many of which could lead to improved human health and wellbeing. In response to this fast-changing landscape, the MRC and BBSRC have recently funded five collaborative networks to drive UK vaccinology forward for the benefit of global health. (more…)

World Rabies Day: Why vaccinating man’s best friend is man’s best hope

A vet from the Indian Army gives a rabies vaccination to a family dog during a veterinarian civil-assistance program. By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bryan M. Ilyankoff [Public domain]
Today is World Rabies Day. The goal of this global day is enhanced awareness spurring further efforts to prevent rabies, a viral disease that kills tens of thousands of people each year mainly in Asia and Africa. Two years ago, international organisations – including the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health – agreed to an ambitious, but achievable common goal: to end human deaths due to canine rabies by 2030. In fact, ‘Rabies: Zero by 30’ is the theme of the 2017 World Rabies Day.

Why today? 28 September 2017 is the 122nd anniversary of Louis Pasteur’s death. It was he who developed the first vaccines for both rabies and anthrax. All mammals can become infected with the rabies virus, and rabies is present on every continent except Antarctica. This can sound overwhelming. However, up to 99% of human rabies cases result from human dog bites. So what can be done to keep ‘man’s best friend’ from transmitting this fatal virus? Vaccination! (more…)

From bakery to benchside: a medical student’s journey in research

The TB Research Centre’s staff and students

It was extremely challenging for me to stare back at the four rejections that faced me. Four rejections from four separate medical schools. Four independent reviewers telling me I was not to be a doctor. I had to endure seemingly unending encouragements and sympathies from friends and family. Their attempts were well-meaning, but often repetitive. My particular favourite was “I believe Edward Jenner didn’t get into medical school the first time round”. This, of course, was a complete fabrication. I think I always had this naïve cockiness about me, an artless assumption that I had the necessary experiences to stroll into medical school. Perhaps rejection had a subduing effect on my ego, though, I probably would presume most of those who know me would thoroughly disagree.

Nevertheless, it occurred to me that I had a year to convince the doctors of now that I could be a doctor of the future. But then I thought again. I had an entire year to do what I wanted. I found myself avoiding medical work of any sort, and take up a job in a bakery. I normally stop here when I want to impress people, to give the impression that I mastered the art of conjuring delicious, enticing pastries. In fact, it is due to my semi-duplicitous nature that many people still think of me as a great baker. But I’m not. In reality, my primary role was to serve customers, clean and wash up (as well as outline the difference between spelt bread and gluten-free bread: a distinction I still don’t understand to this day). It was an enjoyable job, and it provided me with some money to fuel some travelling later on. Moreover, I had the blessing of taking home two full bags of artisan breads untouched by the day’s customers — a perk which became more and more hedonistic as the year went on. (more…)

World Water Week: Tackling a neglected health crisis

Can you imagine life without access to clean water? Unfortunately for 663 million people this is a reality. That’s nearly one in ten people worldwide living without a safe water supply close to home, spending hours queuing or trekking to distant sources and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water. SIWI’s (Stockholm International Water Institute) World Water Week, is a pertinent time to reflect on important research carried out by the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), a non-profit initiative based at Imperial College London, which highlights why access to clean water is so important to human health.

Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a type of parasitic ‘worm’ infection affecting individuals in sub-tropical and tropical regions of the world. It is a major, yet neglected public health problem, where estimates showed that at least 218 million people required preventive treatment in 2015, of which at least 20 million suffer from severe and debilitating forms of the disease (World Health Organisation, 2016). The SCI support treatment programmes against schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminth infections in 16 sub-Saharan African countries and Yemen. Since its foundation in 2002, the SCI has supported the delivery of over 140 million treatments for these infections.

(more…)

Why study frogs in the School of Public Health?

Rhacophorus moltrechti – a species of frog endemic to Taiwan. Photographed by Lin Chun-Fu.
Rhacophorus moltrechti – a species of frog endemic to Taiwan. Photo by Lin Chun-Fu.

Close your eyes and imagine the high-pitched shrieking of cicadas unified in a crescendo of noise from the treeline. Fireflies blinking their fluorescence through the undergrowth. Bats swooping silently overhead, rustling your hair with their wing beats. Trekking across steep hillsides of wasabi plants during a rainstorm. Not the average working week of a researcher in the School of Public Health, but just some of the sights and sounds I was fortunate to experience when I visited Taiwan in May as a National Geographic Young Explorer.

The aim of my 10-day visit was to collect and swab as many tadpoles, frogs and salamanders as possible. Why, you ask? Tragically, amphibians are being struck down by a fungal plague. In the past 20 years there have been global biodiversity losses, mass mortality events and the extinction of over 200 frog species attributed to chytridiomycosis—a disease caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). To give you an idea of scale, some researchers are referring to this outbreak as the sixth mass extinction event: something on a par with the dinosaur die-off 66 million years ago in terms of species lost. More recently emerged is its sister pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), which is causing the deaths of European fire salamanders in the Netherlands. It’s estimated that populations have declined by nearly 20% per year since 2008, leading Bsal to be described by some as the ‘perfect pathogen’. (more…)

TB or not TB? Why tuberculosis remains one of the top 10 causes of death today

Tuberculosis

I was always a sickly child – when I was eleven years old, doctors injected my forearm with tuberculin in order to check whether my immune system raised a response to the bits and bobs of dead tuberculosis (TB) bacteria in it. If it did, it meant my immune system had already been prodded into battling TB, that is, it had previously encountered or was currently encountering an infection with TB bacteria. The injection site swelled like a furious bee sting, the doctors decided TB was the root cause of all my troubles, and I was intensely medicated for the next six months. My symptoms improved, and I have since evolved (visibly even!) towards the hale and hearty end of the healthiness spectrum.

In retrospect, now that I am medically trained and pursuing a PhD in TB immunology, I can appreciate all that my care team must have had to consider before starting an eleven-year-old child on a rigorous anti-TB treatment based on an educated guess. My symptoms were not typical of classical lung TB, the most common and infectious form of TB, they were mostly gastrointestinal, but then TB has also been known to stitch the gut into uncomfortable knots. My mother had recently been diagnosed with a cold abscess, due to TB of the bone, and though this could not possibly be infectious (based on centuries of observation) it still raised flags as it meant I had a history of contact with a TB patient. I showed an immune response to the tuberculin skin test (TST), but then I had received the BCG vaccine, which is a close relative of TB bacteria. This meant I could elicit a cross-reactive immune response and result in a positive TST even in the absence of TB infection due to the similarity of the two bacteria. (more…)