Monday, March 22, 2010

My favorite part of summer is sitting by the poolside with a cold glass of pink lemonade

5:30pm, time to take another pool count, before the next birthday swim party comes in. On Saturday I worked at my local recreation center, where I am an aquatic supervisor and instruct learn-to-swim classes. As I watched the 67 people stand in line patiently for the water slide, relax in the lazy river, dive (ahhh—no diving!) and jump in from the side, or sit peacefully in the spa/whirlpool, I began to think about the frivolous uses we find for clean water here in the Developed world (primarily the US), in comparison to the dire need for clean water in the rest of the Globe. This pool, which is only one of the 14 public pools (that I can think of) within a 5mile radius of my home, can probably hold approximately 150 “bathers” comfortably at one time… not to mention the fact that we are only talking about the indoor pool here, there is also an outdoor pool open during the summer season!… can you imagine what a Malagasy or Ethiopian village could do with all of that water??? Although I don’t as often as I should, every day I must remind myself how blessed I am to live in this Country.

15 – the time, in minutes, I use to take a shower each day

4 – average number of times I flush the toilet every day

3.5 – the average amount of water, in gallons, used every time someone flushes a Standard American toilet

150,000 – the approximate number of gallons held in the pool where I teach swim lessons twice a week

4 – due to our standard filtration system in the indoor pool, the entire volume of water is “changed out” or filtered out in an estimated period of four hours (yeah, that’s an average of 900,000 gallons each day)

884 – the number of people, in millions, who lack access to safe water

3.575 – the number of people, in millions, who die every year from water related diseases (according to the WHO) such as scabies, dracunculiasis (guinea-worm), ringworm, and diarrhea.

15 – according to the UN Human Development Report, an estimated every 15 seconds a child dies from a water related disease

8 – the average economic return in US dollars, for every US dollar invested in bringing clean water and sanitation to the underdeveloped world

For more information on World Water Day/Week and the global impact of water and sanitation: WHO,, CDC

Photo Credits: image 1 is not of my pool, though I so wish it was. image 2 acquired from water encyclopedia

Friday, February 12, 2010

New hope for a malaria vaccine!

Last week’s edition of Nature published some exciting advancements towards Malaria research. A laboratory in Australia, the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, identified an essential protein needed by the malaria parasite for survival. Additionally, the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis identified the same protein as being a potential vaccine target, which only further confirmed the findings in Australia.

Background While malaria can be caused from several different species of the protist Plasmodium, the most virulent form is caused by Plasmodium falciparum. When an individual is bitten by a malaria infected mosquito, the parasites are transmitted into the blood. The parasites enter the red blood cells (RBC) and immediately begin exporting hundreds of effector proteins (effectors bind to another protein thereby activating or inhibiting activity) into the RBC’s cytoplasm, in so doing the parasite alters their intracellular environment so as to evade an immune response, permitting their replication and spread of infection, thus ensuring survival.

Current Research The published research identifies a protein, Plasmepsin V, directly essential to the export of effector proteins into the cell. Plasmepsin V is a membrane-bound aspartic protease, which primes the effector proteins prior to export. It recognizes a particular “tag” on the proteins to be secreted and cleaves it off. The cleaved/primed protein is believed to bind to a chaperone protein which carries it to the membrane channel, where it is exported to the RBC’s intracellular space. In vitro assays demonstrated that by interfering with Plasmepsin V activity effector protein export is inhibited, thus preventing the spread of infection. Plasmepsin V makes for an excellent drug target for two reasons: its closest equivalent in humans is the very distantly related Beta Secretase, which would hopefully minimize any potential adverse side effects, and because this protein does not vary widely across the four different Plasmodium species.

Why is this significant?

Following information obtained from WHO World Malaria Report 2009

- half of the world’s population is at risk for malaria - an estimated 243 million cases occurred worldwide in 2008 - an estimated 863 thousand deaths occurred worldwide in 2008 - the damages of this disease continue to cripple any hope for economic development in Africa

Photo credit: WHO

Monday, February 8, 2010

more on Google trends

The Spanish National Epidemiology Center conducted a study Jan 2004—Feb 2009, evaluating the use of internet databases, such as Google insights, for tracking emerging infectious diseases. They compared the Google queries regarding Influenza-like-illnesses to reported cases. Their results suggest that internet databases and tools such as HealthMap (my new favorite website!) can be used as early warning signals for an outbreak in addition to standard surveillance systems.

Although published on the US CDC website, these results should not be taken too heavily by the general public, as is often done. I would imagine the results would be strongly biased based on a number of factors.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A is for Anthrax, B is for Borrelia burgdorferi, C is for Clostridium difficile...

Here is a blog I found which discusses science toys. What a great idea for educating young children about the invisible world: Giant Microbes! Pictured are some illnesses that have been previously discussed here.

EbolaTuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)


The Shigella (bacteria which causes stomach ache) toy was given a 2008 Preferred Choice Award by Creative Child Magazine. Each toy comes with a card describing the microorganism and the illness it causes. Giant Microbes carries a variety of different viruses, bacteria, and other microscopic organisms. Becoming more common in classrooms, these plush "germs" make science fun and easier to explain for young children.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No, the Government's not entirely crazy...................

This morning an editorial was released by the Indian Journal of Medical Microbiology, regarding the outcome of the H1N1 outbreak in the East, from the standpoint of public health management. This article reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a gentleman regarding H1N1 and the “unnecessary overreaction of the WHO and the CDC.”

In India alone there were 16820 reported cases testing positive for H1N1 and 555 deaths. And as a reminder, the global death toll resulting from this pandemic was estimated to be 8800 in mid-December 2009.

Through the panic and confusion, laboratories and public health officials worldwide scrambled to maintain the outbreak, utilizing systems established as a direct result of the SARS outbreak in 2002-03. This time around, challenges primarily arose from internal, rather than global, communication. Lessons learned from this pandemic have stimulated governments, such as in India, to strengthen their outbreak management strategies.

Lessons Learned/Reminder:

- Efficient communication results in greater public resilience and rapid containment, thus limiting morbidity and mortality

- Lessons learned from one outbreak may not always apply to the next, and so laboratories need to be prepared to adapt and respond to new scenarios in short periods of time

- Increased awareness of systems development and lateral communication among clinical microbiologists is needed

Every time the dust settles after an epidemic or an outbreak, there is complacency at various levels in the system. With the establishment of nodal agencies, departments, international collaboration and multiple resources, it is hoped that healthcare set ups are prepared adequately for rapid response in outbreak management.