Is the HPV vaccine “weak science?” (Hint: no)

Oh, Discover. You’re such a tease. You have Ed and Carl and Razib and Phil and Sean, an (all-male, ahem) cluster of science bloggy goodness. But then you also fawn over HIV deniers Lynn Margulis and Peter Duesberg. Why can’t you just stick with the science and keep the denial out?*

But no, now they’ve let it spill into their esteemed blogs. I was interested to see a new blog pop up there, The Crux, a group blog “on big ideas in science and how these ideas are playing out in the world. The blog is written by an outstanding group of writer/bloggers and scientist/writers who will bring you the most compelling thoughts throughout the world of science, the stuff most worth knowing.” Sounds ok, let’s see what stories are up…oh, one on HPV! Right up my alley. And hey, a woman! Bonus.

*Reads story*

Ohhhhh, it’s actually one on HPV vaccine misinformation, written by the author of the fawning Duesberg article referenced above. Faaantastic.
Continue reading “Is the HPV vaccine “weak science?” (Hint: no)”

BBC apologizes for promotion of misleading HIV denial film, “Guinea Pig Kids”

For those of you who might not brave the comments threads on any HIV post, you may have missed this tidbit of information. I’ve written about “investigative journalist” Liam Scheff previously; he’s an HIV “dissident” and author of a story from a few years back titled “The House that AIDS Built”. In this, he claimed that HIV+ children had been removed from their parents’ homes and force-fed “toxic” drugs to treat their condition (which of course, he claims is based on “inaccurate” HIV testing in the first place):

The drugs being given to the children are toxic – they’re known to cause genetic mutation, organ failure, bone marrow death, bodily deformations, brain damage and fatal skin disorders. If the children refuse the drugs, they’re held down and have them force fed. If the children continue to resist, they’re taken to Columbia Presbyterian hospital where a surgeon puts a plastic tube through their abdominal wall into their stomachs. From then on, the drugs are injected directly into their intestines.

This story was picked up as the basis for the 2004 documentary “Guinea Pig Kids,” an independent movie which was aired by the BBC–a move they now are apologizing for after an intense investigation into the claims made by the movie, and the people involved in creating it. More after the jump…
Continue reading “BBC apologizes for promotion of misleading HIV denial film, “Guinea Pig Kids””

The discovery of highly virulent XDR-TB

XDR-TB has been in the news quite a bit lately, largely thanks to Andrew Speaker’s notoriety. Even though his TB was later re-classified as “just” multi-drug resistant (MDR-TB) instead of the initial extremely drug resistant (XDR) type, it did serve to raise awareness about the issues public health authorities face when dealing with something like tuberculosis–and where the gaps are in the control of its spread. (Indeed, a breaking story out of Taiwan shows how difficult it can be to enforce a travel ban).

However, while XDR-TB is rather new on the radar of the general public (and even many infectious disease folks), it was first recognized over 2 1/2 years ago in Africa. This month’s issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine has the story of its discovery; more after the jump.
Continue reading “The discovery of highly virulent XDR-TB”

Antivirals as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is one of those nebulous diseases that’s really more of a diagnosis of exclusion than anything else. As the name suggests, it’s characterized by overwhelming fatigue–often so much so that patients can barely get out of bed–as well as a number of non-specific symptoms, including weakness, muscle pain, and insomnia. Currently, there is no diagnostic test for the disease, and the cause(s) is (are) unknown. Indeed, it should be noted that there’s disagreement over even the most basic assumption that such a thing as CFS exists, or whether it’s merely psychosomatic. However, a number of lines of evidence (including high antibody titers in many patients) point to an infectious agent as at least a co-factor in the development of the illness, and the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV, which also causes infectious mononucleosis) has been frequently pointed to as a possible causative agent. (Another common herpes virus, HHV-6, has also been investigated as a cause). However, the epidemiology of EBV has made it difficult to study this potential connection using traditional study designs. More on this after the jump.
Continue reading “Antivirals as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome?”

The failure of alternative medicine

I previously blogged an editorial by NBC medical correspondent Robert Bazell, where he told scientists to “quit whining” about intelligent design and instead work on teaching “values.” While I agreed with him there on the science (he made it clear he gave no respect to “intelligent design” and other types of creationism), his suggestion that teachers and scientists spend more time worrying (and teaching) about more “practical” things such as biotechnology and medical ethics was just, in my opinion, wrong. Luckily, his new editorial on alternative medicine contains no such red herrings.
Continue reading “The failure of alternative medicine”

“Scaling up”

One catchphrase that permeated the conference this past week was “scaling up.” I just want to wrap up my posting here with a brief discussion of what that is, and what that means as far as HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

Readers who are scientists or who have some kind of science background will probably be famililar with the concept of a “pilot study.” This is a study, generally small in scale, where new ideas are tested, and preliminary data are gathered. For example, a pilot study looking at how the ABCs of prevention work may take 100 individuals and split them into two groups: 50 who are taught about Abstinence, Be faithful, and Condoms, while the other group may be given no additional information, or be taught only about abstinence, for example. These two populations then can be followed and, depending on the study, outcomes measured. (Did they acquire HIV at a similar rate over, say, the next 2 years? Did faithfulness within a relationship increase in the group who were taught the ABCs? Did the abstinence-only group actually practice abstinence outside of the context of a marriage?) When the final data were examined, then, the researchers will decide whether the pilot study has achieved the outcomes specified in the beginning. If it had, these interventions could then be applied to a much larger group; it can be “scaled up” in terms of money and population.

(Continued at AIDS at 25)

Mommy knows best…in this case, at least

If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve had all kinds of people give you advice in myriad different areas. Many of them may be in-laws or friends or relatives with children themselves; or they might be strangers in the street with brilliant (or, not-so-intelligent) ideas on how to get your kid to stop throwing a temper tantrum (phrased a bit less politely, “shut that freakin’ kid up!”). Or, they may be Evil Monkeys trying to get you to dose your kids with Benadryl to get them to sleep. However, Evil Monkey owns up to his wrong-headed acceptance of folk medicine, linking an article showing that bit of conventional wisdom ain’t all it was cracked up to be.

Magnets “zap” headaches

…according to a new Nature News story.

Migraine sufferers might soon be able to block an imminent attack using a device that targets the brain with a powerful magnetic field.

The technique, called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), triggers activity in the brain’s nerve cells and is already being tested as a way to treat depression. Two small clinical trials have now shown that delivering TMS to the brain in the early stages of a migraine seems to halt it in its tracks.

Since I’ve dealt with migraines for a long time, this sounds great (though I’ll note that the research hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the number of patients reporting an improvement from placebo alone was quite high, so I’ll remain skeptical until more evidence rolls in). But I can already see it being touted by the magnet-bracelet-cure-all people as proof that their product works.

The potential of papilloma virus vaccines

I discussed the so-called “cervical cancer vaccine,” a multivalent vaccine protective against several strains of the human papilloma virus previously here. In the new issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, there’s a
perspective on the vaccine, and issues surrounding it:

Genital HPV infection is common, with an estimated 6.2 million new infections each year in the United States. Although most infections are asymptomatic and transient, persistent infection with oncogenic HPV types is a serious health issue. Cervical cancer is the 11th most common cancer among women in the United States — with an estimated 10,370 new cases and 3710 deaths in 2005. There are racial and socioeconomic disparities; more than half of all cases occur in women who have never or rarely been screened. Among women in developing countries, where effective screening programs are often lacking, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer, and a leading cause of cancer-related death.

(Continued below)
Continue reading “The potential of papilloma virus vaccines”