The broad reaches of melamine

Over at Deep Sea News, Craig has a heartbreaking story about the death of his dog a year ago, and it’s possible connection to the current pet food recall. I admittedly haven’t been paying very close attention to all the updates on this. I have two small dogs of my own, a 10-year-old chihuahua and a 8-month-old Boston terrier mix, and they both get boring dry food that hadn’t been implicated in the recall, so I tuned out a bit after assuming their food was safe. However, Craig’s post noted that this melamine spiking has been going on for as long as 15 years, and the American Veterinary Medical Association has an updated list of recalled foods.

Why I bring this up is because in 2005, my chihuahua had horrible pains after Christmas. She could barely walk, would yip in pain with every step, and had nasty diarrhea. When I realized she wasn’t getting any better, we took her in to the vet to get her checked out. Our vet suggested it was probably pancreatitis, and at that point, we stopped feeding her any soft food (previously she’d gotten occasional pouches of Mighty Dog–which is on the affected list). These symptoms can be caused just by fatty food, and so removing the soft food from her diet stopped the symptoms–but was it merely because of the food, or was it because the food was spiked with melamine? I suppose it doesn’t matter much for my dog–if she was poisoned, she’s since recovered, with no apparent permanent damage. But stories like Craig’s are a reminder that we’re not all so lucky, and that despite our best efforts and intentions, we can’t always protect the ones we love. My heart goes out to everyone who lost a friend due to this mess.

A downside of successful vaccines

A few weeks back during the whole Egnor kerfuffle, I mentioned how important an understanding of evolutionary biology was to many areas of epidemiology, and specifically, for vaccine development and implementation. As one example, I brought up the phenomenon of serotype replacement, which can occur due to the use of what are called “multi-valent vaccines.” Essentially, these vaccines include strains of pathogens which are either the most common, or the most likely to cause disease–thereby protecting individuals from infection with these specific serotypes, but not making the recipient immune to infection with other strains that aren’t included in the vaccine formulation. The concern is, then, that once those types are reduced in the population via vaccination, other serotypes can come along and fill the niche that they’ve vacated. A recent story by Helen Branswell notes that this is exactly what’s happening with pneumococci:
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