Christine Maggiore dies from pneumonia at age 52

Well, shit. Just as I mentioned ERV’s post on HIV denial today, I read over at Respectful Insolence that Christine Maggiore has died from pneumonia. Maggiore, you may recall, made national news by refusing to take AZT while pregnant (although she was HIV positive). Her daughter, Eliza Jane, died at the age of 3 in 2005 from AIDS-related pneumonia. It would appear that her mother succumbed to the same illness:
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Misc. link-lovin’

I’ve been really terrible at spreading around some link love this year, largely because my time to read other blogs has been significantly diminished due to my other responsibilities. However yesterday I was able to do a tiny bit of catching up.

I’ve not blogged much on HIV denial recently (no time, alas, to keep the comments cleaned up). However, regular readers may recall how much the HIV folks hated to be compared to creationists. ERV points out a post by an evolution denier championing HIV denial as well. Birds of a feather…

In a related vein, James muses what should be done about “pseudoskeptics”, period. His focus is on climate change but the same arguments and questions can be posed about those denying HIV, germ theory, evolution, etc.

To switch the focus from anti-science to interesting science, this week’s Grand Rounds carnival is all about the intersection of medicine and evolution.

I’ve also run across some new-to-me blogs and podcasts to add to the sidebar: Persiflagers Infectious Disease Puscast and This Week in Virology. Science writer Rebecca Skloot has also just joined Scienceblogs, so check out her blog, Culture Dish. Any other good sites I’m missing out on?

Ebola–in people, DRC

As the Philippines requests international assistance to investigate the finding of Ebola Reston in their pigs, another human outbreak of Ebola has been confirmed in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

The Ministry of Health (MoH) of the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared on 25 December an outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic fever in Mweka District, Kasai Occidental province based on laboratory results from the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville (CIRMF) in Gabon. CIRMF confirmed the presence of Ebola virus in 2 samples from 2 of the patients in the outbreak by antigen detection. In addition, laboratory tests conducted by Institut National de Recherches Biologiques (INRB) in Kinshasa, also confirmed the presence of Shigella.

As of 26 December, WHO is aware of 34 suspected cases including 9 deaths (CFR 26%) associated with the ongoing event. Additional samples have been collected and are en route to INRB.

This is the same area that was hit with an outbreak last year (also complicated by concurrent Shigella infections), and this story reports an additional 2 deaths this weekend, bringing the death toll to 11 since it was first noticed in late November.

Ebola in pigs! [UPDATED]

I’ve mentioned repeatedly how little we know about Ebola ecology–what the reservoir host(s) are, how it’s transmitted to humans (and other species), why it causes outbreaks when it does. We know even less about the Reston subtype of Ebola, which–in contrast to the Zaire, Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Bundibugyo subtypes, originated in Asia and was first found in monkeys imported into the United States for research purposes. It also is different from the other subtypes in that it appears to be only mildly lethal to monkeys, and several asymptomatic human infections have been documented (but none where humans appear to have developed symptoms).

Now we might have another chance to study Ebola Reston in nature, as Ebola Reston has been found in pigs from the Philippines:
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Good news in global health: cases of guinea worm, deaths from measles fall

A pair of positive stories in the news today. The first involves guinea worm, a nasty parasitic disease. The worms have a complex life cycle, but contaminated water plays a key role. Worm larvae within the water are hosted by a water flea, which may be ingested by humans. In the stomach, the water flea will be digested, but the hardy larvae will travel throughout the body and eventually emerge from the body through the skin–usually in the lower extremities. This causes a very painful burning sensation, which the victim may try to relieve with water–allowing the female worm to contaminate the water source with her eggs, and starting the life cycle over again.

There is no “cure” for guinea worm disease–usually the worm is extracted painfully slowly over the course of several weeks by winding the emergent worm around a stick or piece of cloth. Thus, prevention is key–and luckily, rather simple. Water sources can be treated with chemicals to kill the water fleas; infected individuals should steer clear of drinking water sources; and physical barriers (such as filters in drinking straws) can be used to prevent the water fleas from being ingested. These efforts are paying off:

Only 4,410 cases were reported worldwide during the first ten months of this year, all in six African countries. Nearly 80 percent were in Sudan, according to The Carter Center, the disease-fighting nonprofit founded by Carter and his wife.

That total is a dramatic drop from the 3.5 million cases in 20 nations that were reported when The Carter Center’s eradication campaign began in 1986. It’s also less than half the 9,585 cases reported by individual nations in 2007.

And while measles cases have been increasing in the US and many other developed countries, dramatic data from Africa remind us how important measles vaccination is, continuing a trend that began with a big measles vaccination push in 1999:

Measles deaths worldwide declined dramatically to about 200,000 a year, continuing a successful trend, global health authorities reported Thursday.

From 2000 to 2007, annual measles deaths dropped 74 percent, largely because of vaccination campaigns, according to a report from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations.

Measles has long been a leading cause of death of young children globally and still kills more than 500 a day. But health officials estimate 11 million deaths were avoided in the decline.

*Still* kills over 500 kids a day; progress made, but we still have far to go–both in developing, and developed countries.

Freaks of Nature and Bridgeless Gaps

Readers from waaaay back may recall an event I helped out with a few years ago, bringing together scientists, philosophers, and our resident IDist to discuss evolution and intelligent design. One of the speakers was University of Iowa professor Mark Blumberg, a colleague in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Blumberg also happens to be a prolific author, and has just released his third book in 4 years: “Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell us About Development and Evolution.”

As if that wasn’t enough (and all of this while maintaining a very active laboratory, serving as Editor-in-Chief of Behavioral Neuroscience, and as President of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology–and presumably sleeping at some point), he’s also now getting his feet wet as a blogger, discussing the legacy of Richard Goldschmidt, and the “bridgeless gaps” between species–and between evolutionary biologists. Stop by and welcome him to the author side of the blogosphere (he’s been a reader for awhile), and look for a review of “Freaks of Nature” here at some point in the future.