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Posts Tagged ‘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.

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.

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!”

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.”

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.

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.

Harnessing Google to Solve Parkinson's

In Wired, Thomas Goetz profiles Sergey Brin’s search for a cure for Parkinson’s disease: “Brin proposes a different approach, one driven by computational muscle and staggeringly large data sets. It’s a method that draws on his algorithmic sensibility-and Google’s storied faith in computing power-with the aim of accelerating the pace and increasing the potential of scientific research.”

What Makes Flu Seasonal?

Just as flu season gathers force here in the northern hemisphere, it’s petering out in the southern half of the globe. No matter where you are, you’re more susceptible to the flu in the winter months. Even if, let’s say, some research physicians expose you to live flu virus in the middle of summer, you’re still less likely to get sick than if the same doctors hit you with the same virus in the dead of winter. Why?

Smallpox as Art

Installation artist Luke Jerram creates glass sculptures of diseases to “contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial coloring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena.”

Pick Your Apocalypse

Slate’s interactive End of America site presents 144 possible ways the U.S. could meet its demise and lets you choose your favorites. We’ve covered quite a few of them on this blog

The Importance of Sample Size, Swine Flu Edition

What made swine flu so worrisome was the high death toll it wrought in Mexico. Most of us assumed that the virus would be at least as lethal wherever it spread. It wasn’t. With the virus temporarily in retreat, current estimates show all but one of the swine flu deaths were confined to Mexico, and all but a few of . . .

Swine Flu and the Economy

Feeling a little feverish? Throat a little scratchy? You may be relieved to know that the last time a great swine flu epidemic was predicted it didn’t materialize. In 1976, the U.S. government predicted that 1 million Americans would die from a swine flu epidemic — but only one did. Meanwhile, this post at Foreign Policy points out that while . . .

An Ingenious Approach to Drug Compliance

Some ideas are just so great I am left in awe. Photo: Christopher Harting As Emily Singer writes in Technology Review that drug-resistant tuberculosis is an important problem, especially in poor countries. After you get TB, you are supposed to take antibiotics for six months to prevent drug-resistant strains of TB from arising. The problem, however, is that the antibiotics . . .

One More Reason to Be Nice to Your Children

I’m reading a biography about Buckminster Fuller written by Lloyd Steven Sieden. Fuller had a 4-year-old daughter Alexandra who caught the 1918 flu, later got meningitis, and finally was afflicted by polio. Though frail, she managed to survive all these illnesses until the age of 4. It was the fall, and Fuller headed off from New York to Boston by . . .

Medical Info Overload?

We recently ran a bleg about dealing with too much data. That bleg prompted the following note from a reader named Geoff Barry: I had a thought on when it can be truly negative — even unhealthy. Too much medical information at a layman’s fingertips can actually be detrimental, both for the doctor treating the patient and for the patient . . .

Is the Housing Crisis a Public Health Nuisance?

Public-health officials in northern California are worried that foreclosed and abandoned homes — at least the ones with swimming pools — might become a breeding ground for mosquitoes that could carry West Nile virus. From a Mercury News article: Worried health officials will embark today on an aerial search for backyard, watery havens for mosquitoes that potentially carry the deadly . . .

Offshoring Lung Cancer?

The Wall Street Journal reports on a new World Health Organization study about cigarette smoking around the world. The Journal‘s piece includes data from Euromonitor International about the number of cigarettes sold worldwide by various manufacturers. Here are the numbers of cigarettes sold (in billions) in 2006 by Philip Morris: U.S./Canada: 184 Asia Pacific: 197 Eastern Europe: 229 Western Europe: . . .

The Economics of Obesity: A Q&A With the Author of The Fattening of America

We’ve blogged about obesity at length here at Freakonomics. The health economist Eric Finkelstein has been studying the subject for years, and, along with co-author Laurie Zuckerman, has just published a book, The Fattening of America, which analyzes the causes and consequences of obesity in the U.S. Finkelstein agreed to answer our questions about the book. Q: You state that . . .

The FREAK-est Links

Can studying earthquakes lead to a cure for epilepsy? Should we be able to buy organs? AEI to host a discussion. The irrational truth about humans and money. (Earlier) Ferrari explores switching to ethanol. (Earlier)

The FREAK-est Links

The “Great American Smokeout” hits its 31st year. (Earlier) Can ignorance lead to greater wisdom? (HT: BPS Blog) Advice for getting off catalog lists. (Earlier) Australian Santas barred from saying “Ho Ho Ho”.

When a Pack of Cigarettes Costs $222

Kip Viscusi, who teaches economics and law at Vanderbilt Law School, has written widely and well on the risky choices that people make, especially smoking. A new working paper, co-authored with Joni Hersch, attempts to put a price on each pack of cigarettes smoked: This article estimates the mortality cost of smoking based on the first labor market estimates of . . .

Devra Davis Responds to Your Cancer Questions

Last week, we ran a few excerpts from the new book The Secret History of the War on Cancer and and solicited your questions for its author, Devra Davis. I found her answers to be extraordinarily informative, and hope you do too. According to Davis, the economics of cancer prevention (not treatment) seem to be improving hard and fast, which . . .

E. Coli Advertising Campaign?

Evidence that any publicity can be good publicity: Reading this story about an E. coli outbreak in the pepperoni on Totino’s pizzas reminded me of my 20-year love affair with Totino’s. Why haven’t I been eating them lately? I will have to get some immediately. Maybe I’ll start with the sausage pizza, though.

Indexed: A Big Gassy Ball of Fear Edition

With the current installment of Indexed, Jessica Hagy wanders firmly into Freakonomics territory — the economics and politics of oil and of fear. She calls this pairing “Slippery and Magnetic.” (Here are her past posts.) Is breast cancer a fatal disease that should be vigorously prevented and treated? Of course. But it is a good example of a “cause” disease . . .

Is There a ‘Secret History of the War on Cancer’? Ask for Yourself

Devra Davis knows a few things about cancer. The director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the former director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the National Academy of Sciences, she has spent her career researching, documenting, and advising about the disease. In the preface of her new book, . . .

What Is Your Necktie Hiding?

If you’re wearing a necktie right now, you might want to take a moment to loosen it — especially if you’re a doctor. Years after studies first found that dangerous bacteria routinely hitch rides on the neckties of doctors, U.K. health officials have banished the old four-in-hand, along with jewelry and long sleeves, from their hospitals. They hope the ban . . .

The Economics of Mosquitoes

You might not think that mosquitoes would be a great topic for economists, but two recent papers prove otherwise. I grew up in Minnesota. The state motto is “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” which meant that there was never a shortage of mosquitoes. When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to go in the backyard in the summer because . . .

The FREAK-est Links

Is ticket scalping really so bad? Are staph infections killing more Americans than AIDS? Parents now paying up to $40,000 to beat the college admissions process. (Earlier) Which careers correspond to the highest depression rates?