Archives for Disease



The Fight to Eradicate Polio

In 2012, there were only 223 cases of polio in the world, as compared to 350,000 in 1988.  An excellent, thoroughly reported new article in Wired, by the Kabul-based Matthieu Aikins, explores what it will take to completely eradicate the disease — and it will take a lot:

The global campaign, decades in the making, has come down to this: an all-out, very expensive effort to eliminate the last few problem areas in some of the most troubled and undeveloped parts of the final three countries where polio is endemic: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. It is one of the most expensive and ambitious global health initiatives today, and it is tantalizingly close to victory. There are now just a few hundred cases of paralysis per year worldwide, down from roughly 350,000 when the campaign started in 1988. But going the final inch will require more than just good science and vast amounts of money—it will require a tremendous force of collective will.

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Do You Really Want to Know Your Future? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Do You Really Want to Know Your Future?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) 

If you could take a test that would foretell your future – at least your medical future – would you? And if you did, how would that affect the way you live your life?

The economist Emily Oster wondered how people at risk for the neurological disease Huntington’s answer those questions. Huntington’s is genetic: the children of a person with the disease have a 50 percent chance of carrying the mutation themselves. Symptoms usually surface in one’s 30s or 40s, worsen over time, and end in death. Oster wanted to know how people with the gene respond to the prospect of a shortened lifespan. Read More »



A Cheaper Way to Stop Malaria?

Scientists are working on genetically altering bugs  to eliminate the spread of diseases like malaria and the West Nile virus. A  Pacific Standard article describes the research:

Some researchers, including the Australians and groups at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, are smuggling a hitchhiking bacteria into the dengue-carrying mosquitoes that prevents them from passing on the virus. A British team is tinkering with DNA to either significantly reduce the lifespan of malaria-carrying mosquitoes (known as Anopheles) or kill females when they are just embryos. Either method would cause a population crash. In James’s lab in Southern California, scientists are working on similar techniques.

What these methods all share is the promise of blanket protection: they can theoretically kill or disable mosquitoes that insecticides miss—bugs nesting in hidden pools of water, for instance, or that lay eggs in storm drains or flower pots. What’s more, bioengineering bugs is relatively cheap and doesn’t require toxic pesticides.



Our Future Looks Fat: Study Predicts Nearly Half the U.S. Population Will be Obese by 2030

The results of a new study by public health researchers at Columbia University and Oxford University forecasts that by 2030, there will be an additional 65 million obese adults living in the U. S., and 11 million more in the U.K. That would bring the U.S. obese population up from 99 million to 164 million, roughly half the population. The findings suggest that as a result, medical costs associated with the treatment of preventable diseases (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer) will increase somewhere between $48 billion and $66 billion per year, in the U.S. alone

The study, published in the Aug. 27 issue of The Lancet, was led by Y. Claire Wang of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. Read More »



The Unintended Consequences of “Polio Eradication” in India?

A reader named Ed Woodcock writes to tell us of …: “[A] conversation I had with a WHO (World Health Org.) official I bumped into while touring the Taj Mahal for the first time about 5 or 6 years ago. We introduced ourselves and she told me that she was a “polio advocate,” which obviously led to the question, “What the heck does that mean?” She basically spent her time lobbying organizations for donations to help eradicate polio. Obviously a very worthy cause!” Read More »



Cholera: More Complicated Than You Think?

Cholera, long considered “a disease of filth carried in sewage,” is a little more complicated than that, writes the science journalist Sonia Shah. “[R]esearch on cholera’s natural habitat and links to the climate have revealed a revolutionary new understanding of the disease as one shaped just as much by environment, hydrology, and weather patterns as by poor sanitation,” writes Shah. “And as temperatures continue to rise this century, cholera outbreaks may become increasingly common, with the bacteria growing more rapidly in warmer waters.” Read More »



The Malaria Wars: Sonia Shah Answers Your Malaria Questions

We recently solicited your questions for Sonia Shah, author of The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years. Her responses cover the effect of Rachel Carson and Silent Spring on malaria; bed nets and their alternatives; and the history of malaria in the U.S. Thanks to Sonia and everyone who participated. Read More »



Battling Malaria: Bring Your Questions for Sonia Shah, Author of The Fever

Malaria has been infecting and killing humans for many millennia, yet it continues to elude man’s efforts to control it. Sonia Shah’s fascinating new book, The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, describes our long relationship with the disease. Shah has agreed to answer your questions so fire away. Read More »