Thursday, July 30, 2009

Swine Flu: A Tale of Two Viruses

1859 Chapman & Hall

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities

In the Guardian a few days ago an article attempted to look at the contrast between London and Paris in terms of the Swine flu Pandemic and the cities' responses:

“Today, we seem to be experiencing A Tale of Two Cities in reverse when it comes to swine flu.

“On Thursday, the British government fired up a special swine flu website, designed to ease the burden for doctors and hospitals. It crashed within minutes as millions rushed to log on.

“On the same day in France, government introduced a change similarly aimed at helping the health service. People who believe they have swine flu are being directed to their general practitioner (GP) rather than the emergency room of the nearest hospital. The change was introduced without a murmur.”

The question was asked as to the difference in reaction between the two countries:

Swine Flu figures: UK: 100,000 VS France: 793

Population: each with around 60 million people, and of similar prosperity.

"Britain and France are also neighbours, linked by all sorts of ties. You would expect a wave of flu in Britain to head across the Channel at some point and show up in France. Yet it hasn't happened yet."

The speculations:

Britain is more accurate than France in reporting the number of people with swine flu.

“But I for one am dismissive of this, given the excellence of the French health system (regularly ranked in the world's top three) and especially its alert system.”

“Are the British genetically more susceptible to swine flu than anyone else?” Perhaps not.

So assuming the data on both sides of the Channel are accurate, the Guardian article continued:

-- Britain was merely the first country in Europe to experience swine flu on a massive scale. The wave will eventually hit continental Europe with the same magnitude.

-- The massive spread of swine flu in Britain can only have occurred through patterns of contact that are not the same as in France.

-- The British government's flu awareness and prevention campaign didn't work for some reason.

“Finding out what happened is essential, as it will help flu experts to understand how and why flu propagates and how to better advise the public about how to prevent infection.”

The answer may indeed be elsewhere:

New H3N2 flu variant detected in HK

HONG KONG, July 29 (Xinhua)

Medical science in Hong Kong is a match of the best in the world and ever since SARS in 2003 they have not been complacent at all.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported:

Hong Kong's health authorities announced Wednesday that a new variant of the H3N2 seasonal influenza virus had been found in the city.

“The Brisbane strain had been the prevalent circulating strain of H3N2 in the past year and the new variant is its direct descendent, said Thomas Tsang, controller of Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection.”

The new H3N2 accounts for nearly half the cases.

“H3N2 accounts for 43 percent of flu viruses circulating in Hong Kong while Influenza A/H1N1 accounts for 49 percent.”

The question must now be asked as Jeremy Clarkson did of Mercedes Benz on the A Class and the Elk Test Failure:

“Did they not know or did they not tell us? If they did not, they have no business making cars and if they did, well…….”

Perhaps the simpler question is:

“Did they Look?”

They did in Hong Kong.


Learning from History: Swine Flu & Antibiotics

EBM: Masks, Cathay Pacific Airline, SARS and Influenza A(H1N1)

Learning From History: 1918 Flu Pandemic, Hong Kong SARS, Swine Flu & Influenza A(H1N1) Swine Flu: WHO Level 5 & The 1976 Vaccine Disaster.

Hong Kong: SARS and Swine Flu

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kandel & Doidge: Neuroplasticity & Memory.

In a previous post Nobel: Kandel and Lohengrin:

"Different forms of learning result in memories by changing that strength in different ways. Short-term memory results from transient changes that last minutes and does not require any new synthesis of proteins, Kandel said. However, long-term memories are based in more lasting changes of days to weeks that do require new brain protein to be synthesized. And this synthesis requires the input of the neuron’s genes." Eric Kandel.

He was the winner of the Nobel Prize for 2000. In his book In Search Of Memory, he remembered his arrival in New York in 1939 after a year under the Nazi in Vienna:

Eric Kandel/Amazon

My grandfather and I liked each other a great deal, and he readily convinced me that he should tutor me in Hebrew during the summer of 1939 so that I might be eligible for a scholarship at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, an excellent Hebrew parochial school that offered both secular and religious studies at a very high level. With his tutelage I entered the Yeshiva in the fall of 1939. By the time I graduated in 1944 I spoke Hebrew almost as well as English, had read through the five books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Prophets and the Judges in Hebrew, and also learned a smattering of the Talmud.”

He went on:

“It gave me both pleasure and pride to learn later that Baruch S. Blumberg, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976, had also benefited from the extraordinary educational experience provided by the Yeshivah of Flatbush.”

In Hebrew and English!!! That did not seem to have done him and Blumberg much harm. Right now some governments seem hell bent in doing away with rote learning and that includes some medical schools.

NORMAN DOIDGE when interviewed about his book The Brain That Changes Itself:

Norman Doidge Webpage

“Well, for the longest time, for 400 years, we thought of the brain as like a complex machine with parts. And our best and brightest neuroscientists really believed that. It was a mechanistic model of the brain and machines do many glorious things, but they don't rewire themselves and they don't grow new parts. And it turns out that that metaphor was actually just spectacularly wrong, and that the brain is not inanimate, it's animate and it's growing, it's more plant like than machine like and it actually works by changing its structure and function as it goes along.

“Sure. In the '60s, there were things that were part of a kind of classical education that people did away with 'cause they thought that they were irrelevant like an almost fanatical attention to elocution and handwriting, or memorising long poems. But, it now turns out that what these activities did is they exercised very important parts of the brain that allow you to think in long sentences, have deep internal monologues and a certain amount of grace in all kinds of expression. And probably a lot of damage was done by doing away with these exercises that were there for good reasons we didn't understand.

Links:Latin Latin revival? Brain Fitness Book,

Autobiography: Eric Kandel

Related posts:

Nobel: Kandel and Lohengrin

Lohengrin: Speech Disability, Design & Hypertension

Autism, the Brain and Tiger Woods

'The Knowledge' and the Brain

A Book Review: Knowledge, Ginkgo, Software & Brain Fitness

Friday, July 24, 2009

MRSA & Antibiotics: Obama & Farmers


About 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy farm animals.

That is scary!

The Obama administration is at last taking on the ever powerful farming industry-good luck!

The New York Times leader today:

Farms and Antibiotics

July 24, 2009 New York Times
"The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of the antibiotics used in this country are fed to farm animals. These animals do not receive these drugs the way humans do — as discrete short-term doses. Agricultural antibiotics are a regular feed supplement intended to increase growth and lessen the chance of infection in crowded, industrial farms.

"These practices are putting both humans and animals increasingly at risk. In an environment where antibiotics are omnipresent, as they are in industrial agriculture, antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases quickly develop, reducing the effectiveness of common drugs like penicillin and tetracycline.

"Despite that danger, the Food and Drug Administration had been reluctant to restrict routine agricultural use of antibiotics. The F.D.A.’s principal deputy commissioner, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, signaled a welcome change in direction recently, testifying on behalf of a new bill, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. It would allow veterinarians to prescribe antibiotics to treat individual animals or prevent disease, but it would sharply restrict the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals — the practice most closely associated with the development of drug-resistant pathogens.

"The legislation is drawing strong opposition from the farm lobby since the restrictions would make it much harder for industrial farms to crowd thousands of animals together in confined, inhumane and unhealthy quarters. But the current practice is dangerously self-defeating: treating more and more animals with less and less effective drugs and in turn creating resistant strains of disease that persist in the soil and water. Congress should stop this now before an entire class of drugs becomes useless."

"Some veterinarians' profit margins are bigger than those of cocaine dealers," says Nicki Schirm, who has been a veterinarian in the state of Hesse for more than 25 years. When a veterinarian finds a sick chick among 20,000 other chicks, he treats the discovery as justification to preventively treat the entire flock with antibiotics, says Rupert Ebner, a veterinarian from the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt. "Nowadays, flock or herd health monitoring is the code name for the generous administration of drugs," says Ebner. In many cases, he adds, fake diagnoses are used to provide a justification for the use of antibiotics.

In large veterinary practices, profits from the sale of drugs can account for up to 80 percent of revenues. This is mainly due to the volume discounts offered by the pharmaceutical industry and the sweet privilege known as the right to dispense -- a special provision for the pharmaceutical monopoly. For more than 150 years, veterinarians have been allowed to both prescribe and sell medications -- with almost no supervision whatsoever.

Some 900 tons of antibiotics were fed to animals in Germany in 2010. This is 116 tons more than in 2005, and more than three times as much as the entire German population takes annually. Pharmaceutical producers were required to report their 2011 sales of veterinary drugs by the end of March. A number of companies did not comply, prompting the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety to request the information in writing.

Dr Margaret Mellon of The Union of Concerned Scientists testified before the House Rules Committee in a hearing on H.R. 1549, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).

Scientific America

A New Strain of Drug-Resistant Staph Infection Found in U.S. Pigs

January 23, 2009 By Maryn McKenna
A strain of drug-resistant staph identified in pigs in the Netherlands five years ago, which accounts for nearly one third of all staph in humans there, has been found in the U.S. for the first time, according to a new study.
“Seventy percent of 209 pigs and nine of 14 workers on seven linked farms in Iowa and Illinois were found to be carrying the ST398 strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
……..“The strain has spread so rapidly since then that it now accounts for 30 percent of the staph isolates now sent to the Netherlands's national laboratory, compared with 1 percent in 2000, and has started to spread within hospitals. The risk of acquiring ST398 is highest among pig farmers, says Jan Kluytmans, a professor of microbiology and infection control at the Vrije University Amsterdam, who found that 32 percent of patients in one hospital in a pig-farming community were exposed to livestock that carry the bug.”

Related: New York Times

Hospital Infection: Quorum Sensing

Mercury in High Fructose Corn Syrup ---Autism: What If!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Toucan: Darwin & Infra-red Technology

Thiago Filadelpho

Was it an adaptation to peel fruit? Or was it a warning to others? Perhaps it was to attract the opposite sex as most colourful birds seem to do. That was what Darwin thought. Perhaps it was just chance, a freak of nature. We may now have an answer to the wonderful Central and South American bird, the Toucan.

The mystery was at last solved with the latest in infra-red technology. It makes you wonder what else "experts" might have got wrong about the natural world. We just have to keep an open mind. Even Darwin could get it wrong!

ScienceNOW Daily News reported on the 23rd of July 2009

A Bird With a Big Air-Conditioning Bill

By Michael Price

"Birds don't sweat. Neither do elephants or rabbits. Instead, these creatures flush an uninsulated body part--such as a beak or an ear--with blood and let the heat dissipate into the air. Glenn Tattersall, an evolutionary physiologist at Brock University in Canada, wanted to find out just how much of a cooling effect the toucan's giant beak provided.

"He and colleagues focused on the South American toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), which has the largest bill of any bird relative to its body size. (It can represent between 30% and 50% of the creature's overall body surface area.) The team then used infrared thermal scanners to record the bill's surface temperature while the bird was exposed to air ranging from 10° to 35°C--temperatures typical of the toucan's habitat--and also while flying. By comparing the temperature of the bill with the environmental temperature, Tattersall's team was able to gauge how much heat was being lost; the larger the difference, the more heat was escaping."

Cooling down. Thermal imaging. The orange-white spot on the beak indicates a warm spot (approximately 40°C) where the toucan's beak is expelling heat.


"The bill radiated a great deal of heat at high temperatures and when the toucan flew, indicating that, like elephants and rabbits do with their ears, the toucans flush their bills with blood to cool down. At lower temperatures, the difference between air temperature and bill temperature dropped, meaning that the toucans were restricting blood flow to their bills. Based on its size, a toucan's bill can theoretically account for anywhere from 5% to 100% of the bird's body heat loss, the team reports tomorrow in Science. When the toucan is in flight, its bill is the most efficient heat-shedder ever reported, losing four times more heat than the bird produces while at rest. That's about four times more efficient than either elephants' ears or ducks' bills."

I was reminded of Sigmund Freud:

Biology is truly a land of unlimited possibilities. We may expect it to give us the most surprising information, and we cannot guess what answers it will return in a few dozen years......They may be of a kind which will blow away the whold of our artificial structure of hypothesis. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920)

Science Now

Nature Posts:

ECOLOGY: First Bees, Now Bats.
Paraguay: Technology Meets Ecology
Hong Kong: Humpback Whale
Tasmania: Whales & Dolphins-Mother & Baby
It’s a Bird, a Reptile, a Mammal: It’s Platypus