New HIV Genetic Evidence Dispels "Patient Zero" Myth
Genome analysis reveals that the AIDS-causing virus circulated in the U.S. as early as 1971
By Dina Fine Maron

“This revised timeline comes from a close examination of blood samples taken from men in the late 1970s for hepatitis B testing—including that of the man blamed for being the U.S. epidemic’s “Patient Zero.” For this new work researchers managed to isolate HIV in eight of those blood samples and sequence the viruses’ genomes. The genetic diversity of the HIV samples from those early dates lays bare the fact that the virus had been circulating—and mutating—in the country throughout the 1970s. The team’s molecular clock work even suggests that the U.S. strain of the virus had hopped from Africa to the Caribbean by about 1967, moved to New York City by about 1971 and from there to San Francisco by about 1976. 

The virus’s family tree was sketched out by a group of international disease experts and a medical historian. They sequenced HIV genomes from patient blood samples and examined how the virus mutated over time. By comparing the eight genome sequences to earlier HIV samples from the Caribbean and Africa and assuming certain rates of mutation, the researchers found that there was already striking genomic diversity in the virus around the U.S. by the late 1970s. This suggests HIV had already been evolving within U.S. hosts for years. Similar genetic clock methods have also cleared 2014 World Cup soccer tournament fans of introducing the Zika virus to the Americas, and have helped epidemiologists track foodborne outbreaks.”

Why an Iron Fish Can Make You Stronger

When Canadian science graduate Christopher Charles visited Cambodia six years ago he discovered that anaemia was a huge public health problem. In developing countries, such as Cambodia, the condition is particularly widespread with almost 50% of women and children suffering from the condition, which is mainly caused by iron deficiency. 

Dr Charles had a novel idea. Inspired by previous research which showed that cooking in cast iron pots increased the iron content of food, he decided to put a lump of iron into the cooking pot, made from melted-down metal.

Boil up water or soup with the iron fish for at least 10 minutes. That enhances the iron which leaches from it. You can then take it out. Now add a little lemon juice which is important for the absorption of the iron.

If the iron fish is used every day in the correct way, Dr Charles says it should provide 75% of an adult’s daily recommended intake of iron - and even more of a child’s.

One woman and her daughter, who are part of a current trial in Preah Vihear Province, told the BBC they would use it during cooking.

“I’m happy, the blood test results show that I have the iron deficiency problem, so I hope will be cured and will be healthy soon. I think all the people in Sekeroung village will like the fish, because fish is our everyday food.”

-> Read more about Dr. Charles’ research

-> Learn about the effects of anemia

Give this man a Nobel Prize!

For teaching: public health, human anatomy and physiology

To Protect His Son, A Father Asks School To Bar Unvaccinated Children

By Lisa Aliferis

Carl Krawitt has watched his son, Rhett, now 6, fight leukemia for the past 4 ½ years. For more than three of those years, Rhett has undergone round after round of chemotherapy. Last year he finished chemotherapy, and doctors say he is in remission.

Now, there’s a new threat, one that the family should not have to worry about: measles.

Rhett cannot be vaccinated, because his immune system is still rebuilding. It may be months more before his body is healthy enough to get all his immunizations. Until then, he depends on everyone around him for protection — what’s known as herd immunity.

But Rhett lives in Marin County, Calif., a county with the dubious honor of having the highest rate of “personal belief exemptions” in the Bay Area and among the highest in the state. This school year, 6.45 percent of children in Marin have a personal belief exemption, which allows parents to lawfully send their children to school unvaccinated against communicable diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough and more.

Carl Krawitt has had just about enough. “It’s very emotional for me,” he said. “If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, OK, that’s your responsibility, that’s your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies, then … your action has harmed my child.”

Krawitt is taking action of his own. His son attends Reed Elementary in Tiburon, a school with a 7 percent personal belief exemption rate. (The statewide average is 2.5 percent). Krawitt had previously worked with the school nurse to make sure that all the children in his son’s class were fully vaccinated. He said the school was very helpful and accommodating.

Now Krawitt and his wife, Jodi, have emailed the district’s superintendent, requesting that the district “require immunization as a condition of attendance, with the only exception being those who cannot medically be vaccinated.”

Carl Krawitt provided me with Superintendent Steven Herzog’s response. Herzog didn’t directly address their query, instead saying: “We are monitoring the situation closely and will take whatever actions necessary to ensure the safety of our students.”

(More from Shots: Health News from NPR)


The patch that makes you invisible to mosquitoes

You’ve been there, scratching that big mosquito bite and wishing those bloodsuckers were never born. 

The good news is relief is on its way. A patch will be commercially available next year that can make you undetectable to mosquitoes. It works by interfering with their ability to sense carbon dioxide, which is how they find you.

The Kite Patch was developed out of research at UC Riverside and is produced with food-grade and non-toxic compounds, making it a much safer alternative to most insect repellents like DEET. Once the company gets EPA approval, the Kite Patch will be available in the United States.

And with Zika virus looming as a global health emergency (not to mention malaria), this patch could have the potential to save lives.


This door handle kills germs

UV light, powered by the door’s movement, triggers the microbe-killing power of the handle’s coating



PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Diseases spread in many ways. An infected person can cough or sneeze on someone nearby. Or, they can transfer germs through a handshake. But sometimes we pick up germs indirectly. A sick person might leave behind bacteria or viruses when they touch a doorknob, handrail, shopping cart handle or countertop. Anyone else who touches that surface may pick up the microbes. But what if those surfaces could disinfect themselves?

Two teens from Hong Kong asked themselves the same question. Now they’ve developed a door handle that can knock out germs on contact.

The concept is simple. Every time the door is opened, the movement creates power that triggers a germ-killing reaction on the handle. In lab tests, their system killed about 99.8 percent of the germs that they spread onto lab dishes coated with their material.

Research by others has shown that door handles in public areas often host lots of bacteria and viruses, notes 17-year-old Sum Ming (“Simon”) Wong. The tenth grader attends Church of Christ in China Tam Lee Lai Fun Memorial Secondary School in Tuen Mun, China. He and schoolmate Kin Pong (“Michael”) Li, 18, wanted to design a coating for door handles that would be hostile to germs.

After doing some research, they learned that a mineral called titanium dioxide is known to kill bacteria. It’s already used for other purposes in many products, from paints to sunscreens to edible puddings. To make their coating, the teens ground the mineral into a very fine powder.

Titanium dioxide kills bacteria best when lit by ultraviolet (UV) light, says Simon. UV wavelengths are among those in sunlight. But indoor handles and any used at night would have little natural exposure to UV light. So the teens are lighting their door handle from within. Now, every part of the coated handle will see UV light.

To make sure the interior light reaches the coated surface, the teens fashioned their door handle from a long cylinder of clear glass. Each end fits into a bracket. Inside one of the brackets is a strong light-emitting diode (LED). It emits UV light. (Transmitting the light from one end of the handle to the other is similar to the transmission of light through a fiber-optic cable. In this case, though, the glass handle is fat rather than super-thin.)

And here’s the nifty part: The power that makes the UV light shine comes from opening and closing the door. Simon and Michael designed a small gearbox that attaches to the door. Equipment inside the box converts the motion of those gears into electrical power. That power is then carried by wire to the light-emitting diode inside the door handle.

The teens presented details of their research here at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. This event was created by the Society for Science and the Public (which also publishes Science News for Students). The annual competition is sponsored by Intel. This year, it brought 1,702 finalists to Pittsburgh in mid-May from more than 70 countries.

The door handle system, Michael and Simon say, might cost no more than about $13 to build.

read more 

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha -  the doctor credited with discovering how bad the lead poisoning had actually gotten with the children of Flint, Michigan.

from CNN

At first, the state publicly denounced her work, saying she was causing near hysteria. They spent a week attacking her before reversing their narrative and admitting she was right. “Their information wasn’t flawed. They had the data, but they were being told by the DEQ [Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the government agency that ultimately failed this city and its people from the beginning] that there wasn’t a problem, they just dismissed it,” said Hanna-Attisha and confirmed by the state-appointed task force. “There was almost like blinders on,” she added. CNN contacted DEQ’s former director, Dan Wyant, who made the decision and later resigned over the issue. He did not respond.

“If you were to put something in a population to keep them down for generation and generations to come, it would be lead. It’s a well-known, potent neurotoxin. There’s tons of evidence on what lead does to a child, and it is one of the most damning things that you can do to a population. It drops your IQ, it affects your behavior, it’s been linked to criminality, it has multigenerational impacts. There is no safe level of lead in a child.” - Hanna-Attisha

~ 40% of Flint’s residents are below the poverty rate. 

Why You Might Have Someone Else’s DNA

In Greek mythology, a Chimera is a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a snake. Scientifically speaking, a chimera is someone who has multiple sets of DNA. If every person has a unique DNA signature, then a chimera would be two people rolled into one, and this is actually kind of what’s happening. This can occur in utero when an embryo takes in its twin’s cells, and therefore genetic material. Identical twins happen when a zygote splits. The moment the zygote splits is extremely important because the later the zygote separation occurs, the more genetic material the two fetuses can share. Two fetuses that don’t entirely split can become conjoined twins. If one dies, it’s the same thing as losing a pregnancy early, while the remaining baby can be healthy.

It’s twin death in the first trimester that scientists are particularly interested in. When one twin dies, its material is sometimes absorbed into the surviving embryo causing what is known as tetragametic chimerism. This is more commonly known as Vanishing Twin Syndrome. The surviving embryo will develop with both its own and its twin’s DNA, meaning the child will effectively be born its own twin. Vanishing Twin syndrome is way more common that you might think: In 1945, Dr. Stoeckel was the first to suggest that the rate of multiple conceptions was greater than multiple birth rates. Therefore more zygotes divide than grow into fully formed twins and the dead twin material is reabsorbed by the living twin without a trace–unless the surviving twin’s DNA is studied. It’s estimated that about one in every eight single childbirths start as multiple pregnancies with cells from the miscarried sibling occasionally absorbed by the survivor.

Want to learn more about chimerism? Click here

People Are Finally Talking About The Thing Nobody Wants To Talk About

When Elynn Walter walks into a room of officials from global health organizations and governments, this is how she likes to get their attention:

“I’ll say, ‘Okay, Everyone stand up and yell the word 'Blood!’ or say, 'Half of the people in the world have their period!’”

It’s her way of getting people talking about a topic that a lot of people, well, aren’t comfortable talking about: menstrual hygiene.

Walter is an activist whose mission is to improve hygiene in low-income countries. She works with the group WASH Advocates (WASH stands for “water, sanitation and hygiene”). Her issue is critical: Across the developing world, tens of millions of girls face major difficulties managing their monthly period. According to UNICEF, more than half of schools in the poorest countries lack private toilets. And unlike teenage girls in well-off countries, many in the developing world can’t afford (or even find) tampons and pads.

But addressing the problem is a challenge, says Walter, because even otherwise level-headed experts on poverty tend to get squeamish when the talk turns to periods. In fact, Walter thinks the squeamishness over menstrual hygiene is a big reason global health and development advocates ignored the subject for decades.

“It’s not that it wasn’t an issue,” she says. “But it was just one of those things that no one was talking about. It was viewed as more of a feminist issue or just something that women should think about in the privacy of their own home, behind closed doors.”

Now there’s a gathering effort to change that, at least partly due to the work of a growing number of researchers who, starting about a decade ago, began studying the impact of menstrual hygiene challenges on girl’s lives.

Marni Sommer was among the first.

She laughs as she recalls her first foray into the subject in 2004: “Try doing your Ph.D. on menstruation and sitting at a dinner table when people say, 'So, What’s your dissertation on?’”

Sommer, now a professor at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, was trying to answer a question that had nagged at her ever since she was a Peace Corps volunteer teaching at a school in Eritrea.

“A lot of girls were disappearing from school around puberty,” she says. In grad school, she recalls, “I started looking at the literature trying to understand why we still have this gap in schooling between girls and boys in lower income regions.”

There were a range of theories. But no one seemed to be paying attention to what struck Sommer as an obvious one. For girls, puberty means getting your period. And the schools she’d seen in Eritrea weren’t exactly equipped for that. No toilets, no running water.

“I wondered how would I, at age 10, 12, 14, 16, have sat in a classroom for six hours a day with boys squished under the same desks with me. Would I have come to school? Because I went to an all-girls school and I still worried about standing up in class and having accidents on my skirt.”

The only report Sommer could find that discussed the issue was from 1924. She speculates that the discomfort people feel over the topic was only part of the problem. Another is that, as a cause, improving menstrual hygiene straddles three, often separate areas of activism — education, global health, and water and sanitation. And it wasn’t an obvious priority in any arena.

For years water and sanitation specialists mostly consisted of male engineers, says Sommer. “I don’t think the engineers didn’t want to help girls. I think it just hadn’t occurred to them that this was a challenge.” Meanwhile, she says, global health advocates were almost exclusively concerned with problems that were actually killing girls. “In public health you focus on the deaths and the severe illnesses because you have limited funding.”

But education advocates have long been interested in expanding girls’ access to schooling. And by connecting menstrual hygiene to that cause, researchers like Sommer have dramatically raised the issue’s profile.

Studies have now been done across Africa, and parts of Asia and Latin America. They’re still limited in scope and number, but so far they all suggest the same thing: This problem is severe enough that girls miss school every month.

read more from NPR


Smart Solution To Stop Needle Reuse Wins Design Impact Award

Healthcare providers reusing unsterilized syringes and needles cause more than 1.3 million infections around the world every year, according to the World Health Organization. Ignorance of the dangers and a lack of supplies means that the average syringe is reused four times in the developing world, says advocacy and education charity Safepoint

The problem, which spreads bloodborne pathogens like hepatitis and AIDS HIV (h/t and good catch to sexeducationforprudes), led healthcare designer David Swann and his team at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom to come up with a simple and cheap visual aid. 

They created a syringe coated with a color-changing dye that turns red when exposed to carbon dioxide. The so-called A Behavior-Changing (ABC) syringe is stored in a nitrogen-filled pack and starts changing color only when the pack is punctured or the syringe is removed. Read more below and see the video.

Keep reading
Texas health officials wary of rise in unvaccinated students
In 2007 there were more than 10,000 students exempted and that number soared to nearly 41,000 in the last school year.

This is really important to me. I work in public education. I am around these kids every day, and it is terrifying to me how many of them are not vaccinated. 

It is a public health issue, yall. Pregnant women, infants, and people with compromised immune systems are at LETHAL RISK coming into contact with unvaccinated children.

Get your little germ bags their shots. For real.

Abortions are illegal in El Salvador, and birth control is hard to come by. The irony, which seems lost on El Salvador, is that the same government that denies women control over their reproductive health is now asking those same women to control their reproductive health until 2018.

From When A Country Without Abortion Tells Women To Not Get Pregnant, a piece responding to the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The only person missing from this chain of people walking off the cliff is the Innocent Child (wearing Mickey Mouse ears and being dragged by the ankle).

We owe a debt of gratitude to all the people currently suffering from the measles (whether or not they were vaccinated), because their illness is making more people aware of the ridiculousness and danger of “Following the Blind Anti-Vaxxers”.