A Hidden Disaster


Ebola intensifies the struggle to cope with Lassa fever

Lassa is as easily transmitted as Ebola and its symptoms are almost identical

The peak season for Lassa fever in West Africa is about to begin. The viral haemorrhagic fever has been largely forgotten in the Ebola crisis, and health workers are warning that they may not have the resources to deal with the disease if cases increase.

At first sight the symptoms of Lassa are identical to Ebola. There can be bleeding, vomiting and fever. But whereas Ebola is a new outbreak, Lassa is a constant presence. Every year it infects from 300,000 to 500,000 people, killing up to 20,000. All of the countries worst hit by Ebola are home to Lassa fever. On Friday, Dr Geraldine O’Hara from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told the BBC that one of her colleagues had died of Lassa despite all efforts to save her. Nigeria may also be seeing its first outbreak of the season. Only weeks after successfully containing Ebola, Nigerian media have reported an outbreak of Lassa in Oyo State.

Lassa fever is transmitted by rats and can also spread from person-to-person

There is one main difference between an outbreak of Ebola and Lassa. A Lassa outbreak is caused by rats. The rodents carry the disease into homes and food stores, especially in the dry season running from November to April. “We have had literally dozens of cases of Lassa fever already in the eastern part of Sierra Leone,” said Prof Robert Garry of Tulane University which has a decade of Lassa research in West Africa. Once infected, Lassa can spread from person-to-person. Not everyone who catches it becomes seriously ill, but fatality rates have been known to be as high as 70%. It is less easily transmitted than Ebola, but nonetheless patients must still be treated in complete isolation. Abandoned hospital The containment of Lassa fever was a major focus in West Africa until Ebola arrived. It was in a Lassa laboratory that Sierra Leone first Ebola case was identified. Source: BBCNews Read more.

Aids: Origin of pandemic ‘was 1920s Kinshasa’


Kinshasa, pictured in 1955, was at the centre of the pandemic, scientists say

The origin of the Aids pandemic has been traced to the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, scientists say.

An international team of scientists say a “perfect storm” of population growth, sex and railways allowed HIV to spread.

A feat of viral archaeology was used to find the pandemic’s origin, the team report in the journal Science.

They used archived samples of HIV’s genetic code to trace its source, with evidence pointing to 1920s Kinshasa.

Their report says a roaring sex trade, rapid population growth and unsterilised needles used in health clinics probably spread the virus.

Meanwhile Belgium-backed railways had one million people flowing through the city each year, taking the virus to neighbouring regions.

Experts said it was a fascinating insight into the start of the pandemic.

HIV came to global attention in the 1980s and has infected nearly 75 million people.

It has a much longer history in Africa, but where the pandemic started has remained the source of considerable debate.

Family affair

A team at the University of Oxford and the University of Leuven, in Belgium, tried to reconstruct HIV’s “family tree” and find out where its oldest ancestors came from.

The research group analysed mutations in HIV’s genetic code.

“You can see the footprints of history in today’s genomes, it has left a record, a mutation mark in the HIV genome that can’t be eradicated,” Prof Oliver Pybus from the University of Oxford told the BBC.

By reading those mutational marks, the research team rebuilt the family tree and traced its roots.


HIV is a mutated version of a chimpanzee virus, known as simian immunodeficiency virus, which probably made the species-jump through contact with infected blood while handling bush meat.

The virus made the jump on multiple occasions. One event led to HIV-1 subgroup O which affects tens of thousands in Cameroon.

Yet only one cross-species jump, HIV-1 subgroup M, went on to infect millions of people across every country in the world.

Source: BBCNews Read and see more.


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The Chinese multinational making millions out of vulnerable Ugandans

In the west, Tiens markets its products as food supplements and ‘wellness equipment’. In Uganda, they are sold as treatments for everything from HIV to cancer. James Wan reports from Kampala for Think Africa Press

Wasswa Zziwa Edrisa (middle ) distributes Tiens products in the rural Ugandan town of Iganga. Photograph: James Wan

On the corner of a bumpy, red-soil road in the rural town of Iganga in eastern Uganda, there lies a small store. A handful of people mill around the entrance in the glaring sun, waiting for their turn to enter. They are the main source of activity on this placid street, but their patient presence barely betrays the hubbub within.

Inside, almost a dozen people sit crammed on makeshift benches around two edges of the stifling room. Most of the remaining space is taken up by a shop counter, behind which are shelves piled high with vibrantly coloured health products covered in Chinese characters.

A couple of customers compete with a baby wailing as they read out lists of products to the shop attendants who pick them off the shelves. Every now and then, the door in the corner opens. Someone steps out, and the person sitting closest steps in.

Beyond that doorway is an even smaller room, windowless and illuminated by a single light. As I peer in, three people are undergoing diagnostic tests; a woman is standing on a machine that hums loudly as it vibrates, and a few more patients are waiting slumped along the wall.

Wasswa Zziwa Edrisa − or “Doctor Wasswa” as he is known here − stands in the centre wearing a fresh, chequered shirt on his back and an unwavering grin on his face.

“I will show you how we help so many people,” he says, beaming. “Let me show you the machines.”

‘Organ scanners’

“This is one of the scanners,” he explains, pointing to a piece of kit that looks a bit like a 1970s radio. “It shows everything. We can see if you have diabetes, kidney deficiencies, liver problems, eye problems. Everything.”

Wasswa explains that the test works using a traditional Chinese understanding of the body whereby different points of the hand relate to different internal organs. We watch as an attendant prods a patient’s left palm with a metal tip, making a little meter light up. When the light goes green, he explains, it means that part of the body is fine, but if it goes orange it indicates a problem.

Next, Wasswa points me to the corner where a woman is standing on a small machine and holding onto a pair of handlebars, to which she is harnessed. Her whole body blurs in the dim light as the platform beneath her vibrates rapidly, its droning buzz filling the room.

Similar machines can be found in many gyms these days and are meant to help tone muscle, but the uses Wasswa presents are quite different.

“This is a blood circulation massager,” he announces. “You see how she sweats. It opens the vessels and deals with paralysis. It helps people with stroke.”

A woman stands on a machine Wasswa claims ‘deals with paralysis’. Photograph: James Wan


Wasswa then shows me another diagnostics machine, this one connected to a laptop. As the patient holds on to an appliance plugged into the computer, pictures of different organs flash up on the screen for a few seconds each as a dial next to it oscillates erratically. After a minute, a one-page document pops up, detailing how well his organs are functioning.

In the airless room, Wasswa runs through a few more devices − a face pain remover, a blood pressure reducer, a necklace that removes radiation − before squeezing past bodies and chairs to get back to the first patient we met. By now his diagnostic test is complete. The patient tells me that he came to the store because of some mild pain around his mouth. Wasswa breaks the news that there are more serious things about which he ought to be concerned.

“He has a problem with his spleen,” says Wasswa. “At times, he gets constipation and some swelling in the legs and arms. There is also some paralysis in the legs. He gets headaches. At times he feels dizziness. His brain arteries need to be detoxified. He has kidney deficiencies. He has bad chest pain. He has high cholesterol. He has poor circulation. And he has problems with his stomach.”

The man looks young and healthy. Wasswa is not perturbed.

“He needs to improve his circulation by using our machines and he will need to take our products. If he uses them, he will be fine,” he says.

‘Radiation cure’

Back in the waiting-room-cum-pharmacy, Wasswa shows me some of these products. He picks goods off the shelves – capsules, toothpastes, body creams – and stacks them on the counter as he explains what they do.

“This takes away all the radiation in your body. This helps with diabetes. This treats ulcers. This is for slimming. This adds more white blood cells to your system. This is for people who are mentally disturbed,” he says.

“These medicines are good for everything,” he concludes finally, the pile of products on the counter now complete. “If you have cancer, we can help. If you have HIV, we can help. Even if you have a hernia or a tumour or appendicitis, you just take our products and they will disappear.”

Even if you have a hernia or a tumour or appendicitis, you just take our products and they will disappear

This small store in eastern Uganda employs a handful of staff and, according to Wasswa, receives dozens of people each day. Wasswa is also frequently heard on local radio advertising his services and has made quite a name for himself in the area.

Wasswa was previously a school teacher and says his parents were “peasants”, but now, in his 30s, he is anything but. These days, he drives a shiny four-wheel drive, wears sharp suits and travels around the world. All this makes him quite the exception in Iganga, but across Uganda this young man is by no means a solo pioneer and his store is by no means unique.

Source: The Guardian Read more

A history of dentistry – in pictures


Scientists have developed a new pain-free filling that allows cavities to be repaired without drilling or injections. Take a look back at dentistry from the middle ages to the modern day

Pulling medieval teeth: a dentist with silver forceps and a necklace of large teeth, taken from the Omne Bonum, published in the 14th century. Photograph: British Library/Robana/REX
'La Dentiste' by Gerard van Honthorst. Dentistry in the 17th century. From Histoire des Peintres de Toutes les  coles,  cole Hollandaise. Publ. 1863
La Dentiste by Gerard van Honthorst. Dentistry in the 17th century. From Histoire des Peintres de Toutes les coles, cole Hollandaise, published 1863. Photograph: Design Pics Inc/REX
A humorous victorian trade card (not used to promoted a dental office) - in this case to promote fertilizer drills.
A humorous Victorian trade card (not used to promote a dental office, but to promote fertilizer drills). Photograph: Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Another Victorian trade card for an early form of toothpaste
Another Victorian trade card for an early form of toothpaste. Photograph: Buyenlarge/Getty Images
A 19th century itinerant Italian 'tooth-drawer' as they were known
A 19th-century Italian itinerant ‘tooth-drawer’, as they were then known. Photograph: DEA/A. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images
A Persian Dentist: An Illustration from the Koran from around 1900.
A Persian dentist: Illustration from a copy of the Qur’an from around 1900. Photograph: Buyenlarge/Getty Images
William T.G. Morton giving the first public demonstration of ether anaesthesia in Boston in 1846.
Taking the pain away: William TG Morton giving the first public demonstration of ether anaesthesia in Boston in 1846. Photograph: Apic/Getty Images
A Meiji period Japanese travelling dentist carrying the tools of his trade on his back circ 1897
A Meiji-period Japanese travelling dentist carrying the tools of his trade on his back, circa 1897. Photograph: Buyenlarge/Getty Images
The toothbrush becomes big business - Hungary around 1900
The toothbrush becomes big business: Hungary around 1900. Photograph: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
A dentist and his nurse treating a schoolboy circa 1910
A dentist and his nurse treating a schoolboy, circa 1910. Photograph: Heritage Images/Getty Images
A dentist in Germany, about 1930.
A dentist has a good look in Germany, about 1930. Photograph: Roger Viollet Collection/Roger Viollet/Getty Images
Comedy - A still from a film starring The Three Stooges, Larry, Moe and Curly, as dentists, from the 1930s
Always a good source of comedy: a still from a film starring The Three Stooges, Larry, Moe and Curly, as dentists, from the 1930s. Photograph: Vintage Images/Getty Images
Dentists go mobile - A dentist treats a young girl in a mobile surgery operated for the benefit of local schoolchildren in Cambridgeshire, 1931.
Dentists go mobile: a dentist treats a young girl in a mobile surgery operated for the benefit of local schoolchildren in Cambridgeshire, 1931. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images
A Chinese dentist who works outdoors, displays his instruments and pulled teeth on the table circa 1950
A Chinese dentist who works outdoors displays his instruments and pulled teeth on the table, circa 1950. Photograph: Herbert/Getty Images
A fleet of Messerschmitt micro-cars employed to advertise 'Gleem' toothpaste
Gleeming cars: a fleet of Messerschmitt micro-cars employed to advertise Gleem toothpaste. Photograph: Thurston Hopkins/Getty Images
The first dental x-ray was taken by C. Edmond Kells in 1896 and the mid 20th Century X-ray machines were in common use by dentists
The first dental x-ray was taken by C Edmond Kells in 1896. By the mid-20th century, x-ray machines were in common use by dentists. Photograph: Jon Brenneis/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image
A roadside dentist reads newspaper in Karachi - where it is normal to charge between 0.75 to 4 US$ from minor toothache to major surgery
A roadside dentist reads a newspaper in Karachi. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images
New technology - YAP Laser is now used for the treatment of periodontal diseases
New technology: laser is now used for the treatment of periodontal diseases. Photograph: Voisin/Phanie/REX
Laser tooth whitening is now common
Laser tooth whitening is now common. Photograph: Marja Airio/REX
Children get a lesson on dental care from a dental hygienist at a mobile clinic Colorado, USA.
Children get a lesson on tooth care from a dental hygienist at a mobile clinic in Colorado, USA. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Source: The Guardian

Toothache, as old as Agriculture


It seems that the beginnings of tooth decay happened around the time that man became a static agriculturalist.

The principle culprit being corn.

Moroccan Stone Age hunters’ rotten teeth

Deep decay is seen in the molars on the right, with an abscess perforation of the jaw just below

Scientists have found some of the earliest evidence for widespread tooth decay in humans.

It comes from the skeletal remains of Stone-Age hunter-gatherers who lived in what is now Morocco more than 13,700 years ago.

The researchers tell the PNAS journal that the individuals were eating a lot of high-carbohydrate nutty foods.

The poor condition of their teeth suggests they were often in agony.

“At a certain point, the tooth nerve dies but up until that moment, the pain is very bad and if you get an abscess the pain is excruciating because of the pressure on the jaw,” explained Dr Louise Humphrey, from London’s Natural History Museum.

“Then, of course, the bone eventually perforates and the abscess drains away, and we see this in a lot of the jaw remains that we studied.”

With all our sugary foods, tooth decay has become a ubiquitous problem for modern societies, but it was not always quite so bad.

Dental health took a definite turn for the worse when people settled into agricultural communities with domesticated crops and started to consume far more carbohydrates. But even in earlier hunter-gatherer societies, it seems, the sugar-rich content in some plant foods was causing difficulties.

Bad bacteria

Scientists reviewed the dental condition of 52 skeletons dug up at the Grotte des Pigeons complex at Taforalt in eastern Morocco over the past 10 years.

These skeletons covered a period from 13,700 years ago to about 15,000 years ago.

All bar three individuals displayed tooth decay, with cavities or other lesions affecting more than half of the surviving teeth. In some individuals, the oral health was so bad that destructive abscesses had developed.

Wild plant remains at Taforalt indicate these Stone Age people were snacking frequently on sweet acorns, pine nuts and pistachios. Snails were also popular.

With little if any oral hygiene, the Taforalt diet would have fuelled the mouth bacteria that produce the acid that rots tooth enamel.

As well as pain, the individuals on occasion probably had extremely bad breath.

What is interesting about this study is that it identifies high rates of tooth decay several thousand years before the wide-scale adoption of agricultural practices.

The Grotte des Pigeons complex was used by hunter-gatherers as a base over thousands of years

But although the Taforalt people were still gathering wild plants, they had nonetheless become a relatively sedentary community.

This is evidenced from the long sequence of burials at Grotte des Pigeons and its deep “rubbish tip” containing plant discards – factors that enabled the scientists to examine both a large number of individuals and tie their oral health to the types of foods they were consuming.

Sweet acorns were a particularly dominant feature in the diet, said Dr Humphrey, and may have been the prime cause of much of the dental decay.

“Sweet acorns are neat, easily storable packages of carbohydrate. We think they were cooking them, and that would have made them sticky. The cooking process would have already started to break down the carbohydrates, but the stickiness of the food would then have got into the gaps in the teeth and literally stuck around. And if you’ve already got cavities, it becomes a bit of a vicious circle.”

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James Bond is an ‘impotent drunk’

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Doctors say James Bond, played here by actor Daniel Craig, has a drink problem

Vodka martini, “shaken not stirred” – often said as part of a bad Sean Connery impersonation – is one of the most quotable lines from Bond.

Yet Her Majesty’s top secret agent’s love of the bottle would leave him impotent and at death’s door.

Doctors analysing the Ian Fleming novels show James Bond polishes off the equivalent of one and a half bottles of wine every day.

They say he is not the man to trust to deactivate a nuclear bomb.

Doctors in Derby and Nottingham sat down to read the 14 Bond novels in their spare time.

With a notebook at hand they charted every day and every drink.

Excluding the 36 days Bond was in prison, hospital or rehab, the spy downed 1,150 units of alcohol in 88 days.

It works out at 92 units a week – about five vodka martinis a day and four times the recommended maximum intake for men in the UK.

The doctors’ report in the festive edition of the British Medical Journal concluded: “Although we appreciate the societal pressures to consume alcohol when working with international terrorists and high stakes gamblers, we would advise Bond to be referred for further assessment of his alcohol intake.”

Patrick Davies, a consultant in paediatric intensive care at Nottingham University Hospitals, told the BBC: “You wouldn’t want this person defusing a nuclear bomb.

“He’s a very glamorous person, he gets all the girls and that’s totally incompatible with the lifestyle of an alcoholic, which he is.”

He said Bond would be classified in the “top whack” of problem drinkers and would be at high risk of liver damage, an early death and impotence.

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Babies Unbottled


Odon childbirth device: Car mechanic uncorks a revolution


A “potentially revolutionary” device to help women during difficult births has come from an unlikely source – a car mechanic from Argentina, who based the idea on a party trick.

Apart from having five children of his own, Jorge Odon had no connection with the world of obstetrics. He did however have a talent for invention.

“It comes naturally – for instance if I have a problem in my workplace I will go to bed and my head will think it through and I will wake up in the middle of the night with a solution,” he says.

But until 2005, all his patents – eight in total – were in the field of mechanics, stabilisation bars, car suspensions and the like.

All this changed after Odon’s staff at the garage showed him a YouTube video revealing how to extract a loose cork from inside an empty bottle. It’s remarkably simple. You tilt the bottle, stuff a plastic bag down the neck and blow into the opening. The bag balloons inside the bottle, wrapping itself tightly around the cork. Then you just pull it out.

Odon immediately challenged a friend, Carlos Modena, to a bet over dinner. He placed a bottle containing a cork on the dinner table, and laid out several objects, including a bread bag. Thoroughly puzzled, Modena insisted the only way of getting the cork out would be to smash the bottle. So Odon showed him his trick, and won the bet.

But that night, as he slept next to his wife, Odon had a lightbulb moment – what if he used the same principle to help women give birth? At 04:00 he tried to wake her up. “Marcela, this cork trick could make labour easier!” he said. His wife mumbled, “That’s nice,” turned over and went back to sleep.

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Y chromosome: Why men contribute so little

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Scientists have practically obliterated the ultimate symbol of maleness in DNA, the Y chromosome, and believe they may be able to do away with it completely.

They condensed all the genetic information normally found on a mouse’s Y chromosome to just two genes.

Their study, in the journal Science, showed the male mice could still father babies, albeit needing advanced IVF.

The team in Hawaii argues that the findings could one day help infertile men with a damaged Y chromosome.

DNA is bundled into chromosomes.

In most mammals, including humans, one pair act as the sex chromosomes.

Inherit an X and Y from your parents and you turn out male, get a pair of Xs and the result is female.

Two genes ‘enough’

A human X and Y chromosome

“The Y chromosome is a symbol of maleness,” lead researcher Professor Monika Ward told the BBC.

In mice, the Y chromosome normally contains 14 distinct genes, with some present in up to a hundred copies.

The team at the University of Hawaii showed that genetically modified mice with a Y chromosome consisting of just two genes would develop normally and could even have babies of their own.

Prof Ward commented: “These mice are normally infertile, but we show it is possible to get live offspring when the Y chromosome is limited to just two genes by using assisted reproduction.”

The mice could only produce rudimentary sperm. But they could have offspring with the help of an advanced form of IVF, called round spermatid injection, which involves injecting genetic information from the early sperm into an egg.

The resulting pups were healthy and lived a normal lifespan.

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How is your nurdle?


Have you checked lately?

Surprisingly, the size of your nurdle is of vital importance.

Toothpaste manufacturers want you to have a big nurdle, where as a small nurdle is sufficient. It’s a bit like penis size, not important, it’s the job it does that counts.

You’ve still got no idea what a nurdle is, have you?

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, would a nurdle by any other name still be a nurdle?

Cricketers know what a nurdle is; a case of nudging the ball into a vacant area to score runs; the ocean is polluted with plastic nurdles, but these are not the nurdles I am referring to.

I am referring to your everyday, domestic nurdle.

As parents you should be very concerned with the size of the nurdle your children use. Children’s nurdles tend to be bigger than adult nurdles and to no greater purpose. Children tend to squeeze their nurdles harder which leads to waste. Some children even squish their nurdles on bathroom walls. You have to watch the kids, they have all sorts of unseemly traits.

A nurdle, 5x bigger than necessary

A nurdle, 5x bigger than necessary

A nurdle is the small pea-size blob of toothpaste that you apply to your toothbrush. Manufacturers always show big nurdles, when a nurdle the size of a pea is sufficient; you do not need to line the entire length of your bristles with toothpaste to be effective.

Toothpaste manufacturers always show a long nurdle, because subconsciously this makes you use more toothpaste. You use more, you buy more.

Do you have one of these in your bed?



You don’t think so, you’re not sure…

Well, you probably have about 1,500,000 with you every night you sleep.

The answer to get rid of them is as simple as not making your bed.

Untidy beds may keep us healthy


House dust mites are linked to asthma

Failing to make your bed in the morning may actually help keep you healthy, scientists believe.

Research suggests that while an unmade bed may look scruffy it is also unappealing to house dust mites thought to cause asthma and other allergies.

A Kingston University study discovered the bugs cannot survive in the warm, dry conditions found in an unmade bed.

The average bed could be home to up to 1.5 million house dust mites.

The bugs, which are less than a millimetre long, feed on scales of human skin and produce allergens which are easily inhaled during sleep.

The warm, damp conditions created in an occupied bed are ideal for the creatures, but they are less likely to thrive when moisture is in shorter supply.

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