Gimmie (another) A….(as in, AAAS)

So this week’s American Astronomical Meeting is the current (as I type this, anyway) Buzz in the Blogosphere. Not being an astronomer, though, I’m wondering who’s heading to another upcoming meeting…AAAS (that would be American Association for the Advancement of Science) in San Francisco, Feb. 15-19? I know a few other Sciencebloggers will be either in attendance, or else in the area and popping their heads in. Who else out there is in?

Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses #24: Rift Valley Fever outbreak in Kenya

When it comes to hemorrhagic fevers, Ebola and Marburg tend to get the lions’ share of the press. Both are highly fatal, both can cause people to die in excruciating ways, and both have come to represent somewhat our fear of and fascination with emerging exotic diseases. However, as I’ve pointed out previously, as far as actual fatalities–or even illnesses go–both viruses are small potatoes. Other viruses that can also have hemorrhagic manifestations–including dengue and yellow fever–are much more common. One of these other viruses that frequently causes hemorrhagic fever is Rift Valley fever (RVF), an arbovirus (arthropod-borne) found primarily in Africa.

The RVF virus can be spread by mosquitoes, and more commonly infects domestic animals (such as cattle and sheep) than it does humans. Indeed, a clue that an outbreak of RVF is in progress in animals is the sudden onset of spontaneous abortions in livestock: the abortion rate among infected, pregnant ewes is close to 100% for this virus, for example. Additionally, these livestock outbreaks can put humans in more frequent contact with the virus, leading to a “spillover” of disease from the animal population into the human one. Humans can contract the virus either via direct contact with infected animals (including blood, animal organs, other body fluids) or due to bites from mosquitoes carrying the virus. A prime example of this spillover is an epidemic in Kenya during the mid-20th century that occurred in sheep (100,000 died), and subsequently led to human cases of the disease. Now, Kenya is facing a new outbreak of the virus in humans:
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Flushed away?

This is bizarre….White rats pop up in toilets

Residents of a neighborhood next to the University of Arizona say small, live white rats have been swimming through sewer pipes and into their toilets.

Making it from the sewer into someone’s toilet is a difficult trip. A 4-inch pipe runs from the house to a sewer main. And there’s no “trap door” or other barrier in place. If the lines are running, the rats have to hold their breath and swim uphill against the water current.

The best part of the article:

The Pima County Health Department said it’s best not to handle or touch a toilet-surfing rat, although the chance of getting rabies or plague is low in this situation.

My guess: if you have a rat climbing into your bowl while you’re on the toilet, your first thought isn’t going to be about rabies or plague…

Iowan has swine flu

When people think of Iowa, many of them think of our agriculture (for good reasons). Obviously, it’s big business here. We ranked first in the nation in production of corn, soybeans, eggs, and pork in 2005. Indeed, population-wise, hogs here outnumber humans by more than 5 to 1. This is one reason research at our center focuses on zoonotic disease (diseases which can be transferred between animal species), and specifically, diseases of domesticated animals. A story in the news today shows one reason why we study what we do:

Iowa State health officials say someone in eastern Iowa has tested positive for swine flu, a pig disease which rarely jumps to humans.

Doctor Patricia Quinlisk, the state’s epidemiologist, says there is no cause for alarm.

The patient was diagnosed with swine flu after a throat swab was taken. The person had developed flu symptoms and went to a doctor.

The U-S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the swine flu diagnosis. The agency has blood tests pending on people in contact with the Iowan to determine exposure.

Quinlisk says there was no evidence the virus has spread person to person. She says the patient was not hospitalized and has since recovered.

It was unknown how the individual contracted the virus.

Quinlisk says swine flu is hard for humans to catch from pigs.

More after the jump…
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Europeans are supposed to be smarter than this!

From the Seed mothership: Cancer is due to ‘fate’, Britons believe

More than a quarter of people believe that fate alone will determine whether they get cancer, not their lifestyle choices, according to a survey conducted by charity Cancer Research UK.

The poll of more than 4,000 adults across the country asked people if they thought they could reduce their risk of getting cancer or whether it was out of their hands.

A total of 27 percent of people said cancer was down to fate, with more women than men believing cancer was a matter of destiny than prevention through measures such as quitting smoking or eating healthily.

(Continued after the jump….)
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A chicken and egg question regarding wealth, education, and longevity

i-60ff33c45fe9eefb6e1ae6f3ffd66080-chicken or egg sm.jpg Gina Kolata has an interesting article from Wednesday’s New York Times, discussing education and longevity.

James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, has heard a variety of hypotheses about what it takes to live a long life — money, lack of stress, a loving family, lots of friends. But he has been a skeptic.

Yes, he says, it is clear that on average some groups in every society live longer than others. The rich live longer than the poor, whites live longer than blacks in the United States. Longevity, in general, is not evenly distributed in the population. But what, he asks, is cause and what is effect? And how can they be disentangled?


The answers, he and others say, have been a surprise. The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income.

Aging and longevity are areas where we have a few tantalizing pieces of information converging from so many different avenues, and yet we really remain clueless about what’s going on. It’s widely accepted that early exposures in childhood play a role in our later health–Kolata asks, how much of a role does our education play in this as well? More after the jump…
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Feminism gives you breast cancer

I ran across this story study linking breast cancer protection to housework while browsing Scienceblogs briefly over the break (GrrlScientist mentioned it here), but hadn’t had a chance until now to read through the actual publication. As usual, I’m late; Orac has a good overview, as well as some comments made by other bloggers railing against “feminism” and how this study proves that feminist philosophy kills women.

First, here’s how the BBC story describes it:

Women who exercise by doing the housework can reduce their risk of breast cancer, a study suggests.

The research on more than 200,000 women from nine European countries found doing household chores was far more cancer protective than playing sport.

Dusting, mopping and vacuuming was also better than having a physical job.

The women in the Cancer Research UK-funded study spent an average of 16 to 17 hours a week cooking, cleaning and doing the washing.

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Polls are open for the 2006 Medical Blog Awards!

Check out all the categories and nominees here. Aetiology was nominated so of course I’d appreciate a vote or two just so I don’t get totally creamed, but other favorites are there as well, including fellow ScienceBloggers Effect Measure, Dr. Charles, and Orac, as well as other favorites of mine such as Flea and Unintelligent Design (and those are just in the Best Weblog category; there are new blogs, policy blogs, and patient blogs, including Living the Scientific Life).

Upcoming Iowa events on evolution and intelligent design

It’s a new year, and it will be a busy one here in Iowa when it comes to evolutionary biology. I want to highlight two upcoming events: Iowa City’s first annual Darwin Day celebration featuring a lecture by Massimo Pigliucci, and an upcoming symposium on evolution and intelligent design, featuring John Haught and Wesley Elsberry. These events will be held in February and March, respectively; more information on both of them after the jump.
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