Bill Gates does it again

This time giving $900 million to fight tuberculosis.

Microsoft Corp.’s founder Bill Gates pledged $900 million to fight tuberculosis on Friday, kick-starting a $31 billion funding drive against a disease which kills one person every 15 seconds.

Tuberculosis has reached alarming proportions in Africa and other poor countries, where co-infection with HIV/AIDS makes a deadly combination.

“This is a very tough disease. It is going to take all of us –private sector, the pharmaceutical companies, philanthropy and governments in countries that have the disease — to participate as well,” Gates told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

This is on top of $258 million he donated for work on malaria, which is in addition to everything he does as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The $900 million is a good start, but they do note in the article that to really get a handle on TB, “…full implementation would cost an estimated $56 billion over the next decade.” That’s a long way to go, and with the other funding priorities the U.S. has, I don’t expect to see much of a donation on our part.

Well, ain’t this clever…

This has already been written up by the MSM (such as this article), so I’ll just quote a bit from them:

Circulation of money may predict pandemics

A popular U.S. Web site that tracks the geographical circulation of money could offer new insights into predicting the spread of infectious diseases like bird flu.

Money, like diseases, is carried by people around the world, so what better way to plot the spread of a potential influenza pandemic than to track the circulation of dollar bills, researchers reasoned.

Researchers in Germany and the United States did just that to develop a mathematical model of human travel that can be used to plot the spread of future pandemics.

To model transmission, they used data from the Where’s George website, where people can enter their location and bill serial numbers to track them around the country. It’s obviously not a perfect model–there will be some bias as to who enters their money, so some areas may show up more frequently than others–but it’s a neat trick and a novel way to use that information.

You can find the original article here.

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Prayer: weapon of choice against pandemic flu

Okay, normally I would write this story (Christian Scientists Prepare to Battle Bird Flu With Prayer) off as just some wacky religious folks going about their business. Not my cup o’ tea, but to each their own, I guess. But this part is chilling:

Then there is the question of what Christian Scientists would do if they were prohibited from going to church.

When the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting people from going to churches and movie theaters in 1918, a handful of Christian Scientists challenged the constitutionality of the law in court. The judge ruled in their favor, saying that the city had a legal right to prevent public gatherings, but that the ordinance illegally singled out churches among other public places like hotel lobbies, stores and streetcars.

Heather Davis, a 44-year-old television producer, said that if a bird flu pandemic struck today and she could not go to church, she would want to go “twice as much.”

“I’d want to pray with anyone then,” she added, “not just Christian Scientists.”

Johnson, the college student, said: “I would go out. I would definitely protest and fight it” in the courts. “As soon as in my thoughts, I accept the fact that by going out and gathering with people, I become potentially susceptible, it’s as if I completely nullify all the work I’ve done.”

Y’know, it’s one thing to practice your religious beliefs in private. Whatever. I may not agree, but I won’t go pounding down your door in protest. It’s another to threaten to go out and potentially expose people to a disease which, even if you don’t “believe” in it, the rest of the world does. Especially if the govenment decides to close public places–can’t you pray as well at home as in your church?

(For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Christian Scientists, they generally refuse modern medicine in favor of faith-healing [skeptic’s view of it here]. As a result, they’ve been involved in several high-profile cases where the parents refused treatment for their child, and the child later died.)

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Groundbreaking study every office employee needs to read

(Subtitle: There is no spoon…)

Oh, those crazy Aussies. What will they think of next?

The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute

Objectives To determine the overall rate of loss of workplace teaspoons and whether attrition and displacement are correlated with the relative value of the teaspoons or type of tearoom.

Design Longitudinal cohort study.

Setting Research institute employing about 140 people.

Subjects 70 discreetly numbered teaspoons placed in tearooms around the institute and observed weekly over five months.

Main outcome measures Incidence of teaspoon loss per 100 teaspoon years and teaspoon half life.

Results 56 (80%) of the 70 teaspoons disappeared during the study. The half life of the teaspoons was 81 days. The half life of teaspoons in communal tearooms (42 days) was significantly shorter than for those in rooms associated with particular research groups (77 days). The rate of loss was not influenced by the teaspoons’ value. The incidence of teaspoon loss over the period of observation was 360.62 per 100 teaspoon years. At this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a practical institute-wide population of 70 teaspoons.

Conclusions The loss of workplace teaspoons was rapid, showing that their availability, and hence office culture in general, is constantly threatened.

Continue reading “Groundbreaking study every office employee needs to read”

Preparedness for kids

Well, at least there seems to be some progress in terrorism preparedness plans. Apparently, the Department of Homeland Security has a program ready to prepare children for disasters.

After more than a year of delays, the Department of Homeland Security says it plans to launch a preparedness program next month aimed at alerting and preparing children for natural disasters.

The program, called Ready Kids, is scheduled to roll out with TV ads, school programs and other events.

“Ready Kids is a tool for parents and teachers to use to be able to speak to their students and children about how to be prepared for any type of disaster,” said DHS spokeswoman Joanna Gonzalez.

However, this again shows what I was discussing here. Seems FEMA, which is one of the agencies DHS is composed of, already has a program covering this ground (http://www.fema.gov/kids). Good to hear they’re working together, and not wasting our money by duplicating efforts or anything. Oh, and did I mention it has a rap:

Disaster…it can happen anywhere,
But we’ve got a few tips, so you can be prepared
For floods, tornadoes, or even a ‘quake,
you’ve got to be ready–so your heart don’t break.

(Note to FEMA: even kids are savvy enough to realize this rap is…crap).

Like the rest of their preparedness plans, this one is long overdue. It was originally scheduled for release in September 2004–but is “definitely” scheduled for launch next month. How it will differ from FEMA’s and why we need 2 different ones remains to be seen.

More on melatonin

I wrote about a recent study investigating a possible connection between melatonin and the development of breast cancer here last week. coturnix–who knows this field much, much better than I–has more discussion on serotonin, melatonin, and their role in health and disease over here at Circadiana. It’s a field he actually knows about and there are lots of interesting tidbits, so check it out.

Sometimes, I love being wrong

It seems I may have spoken too soon. Quoting myself:

One historical event that has been the subject of much speculation over the decades has been the Plague of Athens, a mysterious outbreak that is thought to have changed the direction of the Peloponnesian War, and for which the cause still remains uncertain.

This plague has been attributed to bubonic plague, toxic shock syndrome and/or necrotizing fasciitis due to Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, yellow fever, malaria, Ebola, influenza, and smallpox, to name just a few. Typhus seems to fit the description best, but it’s likely that a cause will never be known with certainty.

Little did I know when I posted that on my old blog (just last month!) that a study had already been accepted to the International Journal of Infectious Diseases suggesting that it’s not typhus (caused by Rickettsia prowazekii), but typhoid fever (Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi) that appears to be the cause of the plague.
Continue reading “Sometimes, I love being wrong”

Blog tag re: avian flu policymaking

So, like Kevin over at No Se Nada, this started out as a comment on his avian flu policymaking post but got rather wordy, so I’m spinning it off over here. For those keeping track, the initial volley was this post, but previous discussion was had over here as well (and this post discussed some of his comments from that one).

So, in response, I think we are talking past each other a bit. I see a lot of difference between “wolf-crying” and simple education. I’ll re-post what I said in the comments here regarding that issue (in response to the question, “How do you inform people that this could be a very deadly outbreak without making it a media storm?”):

That’s the question I’ve asked myself and others over and over, and no one can seem to find a good answer for it. I’ve tried to present what we know currently without “hyping” it; indeed, I’ve pointed out several times why H5N1 probably isn’t as deadly as it’s commonly reported (as a 50% mortality rate). Thing is, we’re kind of in a lose-lose situation. We don’t discuss the virus and it hits us, we look bad for not disseminating information. We do discuss it and it fades away, we look bad for “crying wolf.” Since neither position is a great one to be in, I’d prefer to err on the side of more information, personally.

Additionally, the public has a short attention span, and often doesn’t know the behind-the-scenes work that goes into fighting emerging pathogens. For example, many people think that SARS was just “crying wolf,” but don’t realize the work that public health officials did to contain that virus. It’s the problem with public health–when it’s working correctly, no one notices it.

Continue reading “Blog tag re: avian flu policymaking”

Grand Rounds 2.18 is up

This week’s Grand Rounds is up over at Kevin, M.D. I forgot to submit a post, but this week’s edition is certainly not suffering from my absence. Check out this week’s collection of the best posts in the medical blogosphere.