Recent medical news

  • The Zika virus has now spread to Florida and pregnant women have been advised to avoid the area in the wake of new cases. These cases of the Zika virus are the first infections in the US that are not linked to travel. The CDC has advised that pregnant women avoid the Wynwood area of Miami and possibly other areas in South Florida.
  • A division of Alphabet has joined GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) to start a company for the development of bioelectronics. Galvani Bioelectronics will receive £540 million over the next few years. The implants are thought to work by modifying nerve signals to help fix health problems by connecting to specific organs. These implants will be powered wirelessly and function automatically which is an exciting prospect for the future
  • There has been an outbreak of anthrax on the Yamal peninsula in Siberia which has been put down to a corpse of a reindeer or human. The outbreak has resulted in the hospitalisation of 90 people who are suspected to have the infection. The authorities are now working to contain the outbreak by vaccinating the reindeer and herders who are at risk as well as burning the corpses of the dead reindeer. This is the first outbreak since 1941. Hopefully, the outbreak has been successfully contained
  • The NHS can now legally fund a drug that can prevent HIV in a ruling made by the High Court. NHS England had said that it had no legal power to fund the treatment which has been highly successful in preventing the spread of HIV. They also said the drugs should be funded by a local authority. However, a judge ruled that this was wrong as the drug amounts to treatment. The antiretroviral treatment has shown to reduce risk of HIV infection by 90% in high risk patients and has also been shown to prevent the replication of the virus. NHS England is expected to appeal the decision
  • We now have evidence that people who are more susceptible to autoimmune disorders may be that way because their immune systems are better equipped to combat infections which enables people to live longer. Research at Princeton University has found that high levels of antibodies that can attack the body tissues are associated with longer life expectancy. However, people with these antibodies were also more likely to develop an autoimmune disorder.




New drug has the potential to treat parasitic infections

A new drug has the potential to treat Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness, all of which are parasitic infections. The drug was discovered through the testing of 3 million compounds and the drug is now undergoing safety tests before it is ready for human trials. Here is some information about the three infections for those who do not know much about the illnesses:

  • Sleeping sickness or trypanosomiasis is a parasitic infection spread by the tsetse fly and the infection can be chronic or acute depending on the form of the disease. The disease can also be transmitted through contact with certain bodily fluids such as blood and the parasite can cross the placenta to infect an unborn child. The infection is characterised by fever, headache, joint pain, behavioural changes, sensory disturbances and disturbance of the sleep cycle (hence the name sleeping sickness).
  • Chagas disease is a parasitic infection that is also known as American trypanosomiasis. It can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, consumption of contaminated food and can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth. The disease occurs in two phases. The acute phase lasts for around 2 months and this is characterised by skin lesions, fever, enlarged lymph glans, muscle pain, breathing problems, swelling and chest pain in some cases. However, symptoms are usually mild. During the chronic phase, patients can suffer from cardiac disorders, digestive problems or neurological concerns. The infection can lead to sudden death or heart failure as a result of the damage.
  • Leishmaniasis is a parasitic infection that occurs in three forms. Visceral leishmaniasis is characterised by irregular fevers, weight loss, enlargement of the  spleen and liver and anaemia. Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common form  and it typically results in skin lesions. Mucocutaneousleishmaniasis leads to partial or total destruction of mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat. The disease is transmitted by the bites of an infected female phlebotomine sandfly.

Researchers hope that this new drug will help cure the infections in a more practical and cost-effective way compared to the current treatments. Tests showed that the upgrade (codenamed GNF6702) could treat all three of the infections in mice.

This drug clearly sounds very promising but there is still a long way to go before it is determined to be suitable or unsuitable for human use. The result of the investigations seems successful but the issue is there hasn’t been many incentives for drug companies to research and produce such drugs as they only affect the developing world. This seems quite shocking and I find it very unfortunate that we live in a world where medicine is driven by money and drugs are made and sold by companies. What do you think about the realities of manufacturing drugs in a country that prioritises the cost over the benefit to the millions of people affected by these infections

I would like to know what you think about the new development and research and how you think this will affect the lives of people in developing countries if this drug proves to be a success.


The rejection of an extension of the meningitis B vaccine

The meningitis B vaccine is available to all children under the age of 12 months but the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said that there was not enough of the vaccine to develop a catch-up programme. This view was justified by the fact that cases of meningitis B are rarer in older children so the vaccination would not be cost-effective. That key term cost-effective is frequently used in issues surrounding the NHS and it is a significant one as we simply cannot afford to provide a vaccine to low risk members of society which does unfortunately result in the tragic loss of young lives. Although many people are disappointed with the rejection, it is in our best interests to immunise the children who are most at risk. If we decide to immunise those who are at low risk then we may cause a shortage in the vaccine that means at-risk children will not receive the life-saving  vaccine. Despite this, the difference in risk between 1 year olds and 2 year olds is rather small and therefore it would make sense to immunise all children under the age of two who have not yet been immunised.

I personally believe that we should promote the use of the vaccine in all children under the age of two as a minimum requirement and then if possible we should extend this to any children who are at higher risk of meningitis B than the general population. I feel that this would help to protect the very vulnerable members of our society. However, I do understand the reasons why the committee has rejected the extension at this moment in time and I do understand that we should prioritise the most at-risk people and then extend this protection if possible after all children under 1 have been immunised.

The implications of this programme in the long-term is significant and will reduce the number of meningitis B cases. I think that this will help to protect the children that are currently unable to be immunised which is clearly positive.

If you have any opinions about this rejection then please comment your opinions so that we can discuss the likely implications for any rejection or acceptance of an extension.







The threat of fungal infections

It is predicted that 1 million people die from fungal infections each year but despite this, there are no vaccines or new treatments in development because fungal infections are not treated as a threat to human health.

For those of you who don’t know, there are three major groups of fungi that cause deaths in people. These are:

  • Aspergillus- Affects the lungs
  • Cryptococcus- Attacks the brain
  • Candida- Infects the mucosal membranes

It is also important to note that these infections are more deadly in those with a weakened immune system such as HIV patients. I think it is clear that we need to understand the infections and how to deal with them so that we can better protect the most susceptible members of society.

This news has been brought to light following the discovery of a new strain Candida auris  which has been observed in an English hospital. This is particularly worrying as it is easily transmitted and is resistant to the first-choice anti fungal. As a result of this news, I think we need to make medical staff more aware of these infections so that they can alter their approach to treating fungal infections. The next step in improving treatment of fungal infections would be to develop a method for identifying the pathogens.

Please feel free to ask any questions and I will try my best to answer them. Also, feel free to post your own opinions about this information.

The rise in antidepressant prescriptions

Recent figures have suggested that the prescriptions for antidepressants  on the NHS have been increasing. This trend has been persistent for many years. This could be due to the fact that more people are coming forward and seeking help for their mental health issues but this is not the only possible reason.

As a society, I believe that we have become more inclined to prescribe medication to resolve an issue than to prescribe therapies and emotional support. Despite these concerns, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy are becoming more widely available. However, the fact still remains that some people do not have access to these beneficial treatments which can cause a deficit in mental health services.

This means that we need to improve our understanding of how many people are taking antidepressants, for how long and whether they are using any other treatments so that we improve mental health services to ensure the most vulnerable members of society are assisted as much as possible with their mental health disorders.