Monday, December 31, 2007

ProMED Internet-a-thon

Today is the last day to contribute to the ProMED-mail Internet-A-Thon.

Your financial support enables ProMED to continue providing you and 42,000 others in 170 countries worldwide with reliable, independent reporting of emerging infectious diseases and outbreaks as they happen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Contagious Yawning

Via Gene Expression: Biology Letters reports "the disturbance of contagious yawning in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)."

Yawning video clips elicited more yawns in TD [typically developing] children than in children with ASD, but the frequency of yawns did not differ between groups when they observed control video clips. Moreover, TD children yawned more during or after the yawn video clips than the control video clips, but the type of video clips did not affect the amount of yawning in children with ASD. Current results suggest that contagious yawning is impaired in ASD, which may relate to their impairment in empathy. It supports the claim that contagious yawning is based on the capacity for empathy.

The news has already made it into the Wikipedia section on contagious yawning.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Clusters

PlagueBlog apologizes for falling behind in bird flu reporting. The clusters were coming fast and furious last week, but without sustained transmission. Armageddon is postponed once again. Here's a cluster roundup, mostly via ProMED-mail, as usual:

The WHO washes its hands of the cluster question in China:

The World Health Organization said Friday it was impossible to say whether a case of bird flu in China involving a 52- year-old man was due to human-to-human transmission - but, even if it was, it was down to very close contact between the victims.

The Indonesian cluster has dissolved, at least in the opinion of the Indonesian government, that bastion of bird-flu responsiveness:

Two sets of laboratory tests showed the six admitted to a hospital in Jakarta on Friday did not have the H5N1 virus, said Nyoman Kandun, director-general of communicable disease control at Indonesia's health ministry.

Pakistan is double-checking the WHO's negative results for their erstwhile bird flu cluster:

"In their preliminary tests the WHO team excluded suspected human-to-human transmission, but we have sent the samples to Geneva for further confirmation," health ministry spokesman Oriya Maqbool Jan told AFP.

The WHO team was sent after the ministry announced the death of a man who was one of six people infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of the avian influenza virus in North West Frontier Province along the Afghanistan border.

A brother of the victim also died before being tested for the virus. Both had worked on a cull of infected poultry.

PlagueBlog finds it suspicious that the "first" bird flu case in Pakistan was a cluster of six, and also that the first report out of China in six months was a cluster of two.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Epilepsy Drugs and Asians

Via the Rare Diseases Blog: the FDA has recommended that persons of Asian ancestry have a genetic test for the HLA-B*1502 gene before taking epilepsy drugs containing carbamazepine, because of the risk of rare skin reactions. Gory pictures are available in this PDF about SJS.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Boy Meets Bat

Via Universal Hub: boy meets bat in basement and may yet live to tell about it.

Please remember that bats are not our friends. Bats are blood-sucking, disease-bearing flying rats out of a Cthulhu Christmas Special where the lucky ones die early and the handsome brave ones die pathetically later, foaming at the mouth and biting their friends in order to spread the madness. Just keep away. If you happen to come into contact with a slow-moving bat, save it for testing and see a doctor. Likewise for squirrels.

Up to a hundred people die of rabies every day in Asia because they don't know enough to seek treatment. Here in civilization, bats are the up-and-coming culprit:

Recently, bat rabies has emerged as an important epidemiologic reservoir in some parts of the world (i.e. the Americas and Australia). In North America, most documented human rabies deaths occurred as a result of infection from the silver haired bat rabies virus variant and in Australia at least two human deaths have occurred from exposure to a previously unrecognized rabies virus. In South America, wildlife rabies, especially bat rabies is increasing. For the first time in 2003, more people died from rabies following bites from wildlife than from dogs in South America.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New Strain of Ebola

The Atlanta Journal Constitution, your source for up-to-the-minute CDC news, reports that the current Ebola outbreak in Uganda (51 cases and 16 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the WHO) is due to a new, fifth strain of the virus:

Samples arrived at CDC's Biosafety Level 4 labs in Atlanta on Monday. By Tuesday, Ksiazek said, it was apparent this was not a typical Ebola virus.
Dr. Stuart Nichol, a CDC special pathogens team leader, said some molecular tests for Ebola were coming back negative, when another type of test came back positive. The CDC lab was then able to extract a small fragment of the virus' genome.
"It looks, based on this, like it's a new species of Ebola," Nichol said Friday evening.
Previously, there were only four known types of Ebola. The Sudan and Zaire species were discovered in 1976. A strain called Reston was identified in 1989 among monkeys imported to a lab in Virginia. And in 1994, the Ivory Coast strain was identified.
Depending on the strain, the death rate varies. Ebola-Zaire kills about 80 percent of its victims, while the Sudan strain kills about 50 percent, Ksiazek said.