Zika Virus Updates

zika_symptoms_600x300

CDC chart describing the major symptoms of Zika Virus in adults. (CDC.gov)

It has been a while since I have posted about Zika Virus. As the US mosquito season is peaking currently, I felt it would be appropriate to do so. Here are some important updates, based on some news articles I noticed in the past week:

  • Currently in the USA, the overall Zika Virus incidence rate is much lower than it was last year. In New York for example, the current infection level is approximately 55% lower than last year at this time.
  • In Central and South America, many countries are seeing a decline in Zika infections, however there are no countries where Zika Virus is disappearing. Interestingly, Argentina and Peru are seeing Zika levels increasing lately.
  • It is likely that the broad declines in Zika infections within the Americas are due to an increase in the natural immunity to the virus throughout the population. Once someone has been infected with Zika once, they cannot be infected again and cannot pass the virus onto other mosquitos. These mechanisms help decrease the spread and infectivity of Zika Virus.
  • Due to the sexual transmission of Zika Virus, the US government has amended their guidelines to inform Americans who have been exposed to Zika. Currently, women who have Zika symptoms should wait approximately 8 weeks before attempting to get pregnant. Men, however, should wait approximately 6 months before engaging in sex. The differences in time are due to Zika surviving longer in the testes than initially expected. (For a review of the symptoms of Zika Virus in adults, please see the graphic at the top of this post!)
  • On the research front, scientists have created a mouse model to study Zika virus’ life cycle and transmission characteristics. Creating this research model is a great advancement as it will allow scientists to gain more knowledge on the virus and allow us to make advancements in the prevention of its spread and treatment.

While Zika is currently less talked about than it was last year, it is still prevalent and should not be forgotten. I’ll post more updates as the news behind Zika Virus develops.

 

For More information:

Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum

Hi everyone! Today, I will be posting about a disease that affects someone close to me and that I feel needs much more awareness, both in the medical community and in the general public.

Pseudoxanthoma Elasticum, commonly referred to as PXE, is a genetic connective tissue disease for which there is no cure. PXE is a very rare disease that is estimated to only affect 1 in every 25,000-100,000 individuals. women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed, though the cause for this observation is unknown at this time. PXE is caused by a mutation in the gene that codes for the membrane transport protein ABCC6, leading to mineralization of elastic tissue in the skin, retina, and arteries. This disease is known as an autosomal recessive disease, meaning that it can be inherited, though it is unlikely that an affected individual’s children can develop the disease unless their spouse is also a carrier of the defective gene.

PXE is commonly diagnosed when any of the following signs are detected (see pictures below):

  • Specific skin lesions around the neck – the skin looks like cobblestones or a plucked chicken
  • Peau d’orange and/or angioid streaks on the retina, and abnormal calcification in the arteries.

While there is no treatment for PXE, physicians in many specialties can help patients maintain a healthy life by watching for the signs above and taking steps to treat any conditions that may arise from them. Some common ways that PXE patients can remain healthy include:

  • Regular cardiology examinations – your cardiologist can check to make sure your entire cardiovascular system is functioning properly, especially your heart, and can provide you with information to maintain proper cardiac health, including diet recommendations and exercise advise.
  • Regular eye examinations – your optometrist or ophthalmologist can observe the overall health of your eye and detect some of the earliest signs of PXE. Since PXE can lead to an increased risk of retinal bleeding and a loss of central vision, your eye doctor can continuously monitor your eye health to prevent vision loss and the development of a retinal bleed.
  • Regular examinations with your general practitioner and other specialists – your general practitioner will ensure you remain healthy overall and may refer you to other specialists as needed. Apart from cardiologists and eye doctors, another specialty consulted for PXE patients may include gastroenterology, as PXE can increase your risk of intestinal bleeding.

Unfortunately, since PXE is so rare, very few physicians know what signs to watch for in their patients. While there is no cure, early detection can allow patients to follow up with different specialties to prevent vision loss, cardiovascular complications, gastrointestinal complications, and more. As organizations, such as PXE International, continue to bring awareness to this disease, more and more research will be conducted to allow us to have a better understanding of what underlying processes are occurring and how we can better treat patients.

PXE Skin Lesion

The classic PXE skin lesion on the back of the neck. (pxe.org)

 

PXE retina

Retinal image, showing the angioid streaks that are indicative of PXE (maculacenter.com)

 

For More Information:

 

Glaucoma

Hi all! Since May is Healthy Vision Month, I will be writing a few posts about common eye diseases, their symptoms, and what you can do to protect your eyes! Our vision is something that most of us take for granted, but losing it can drastically alter our life. In this first post, I will be speaking about Glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in the United States.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a disease that is usually caused by a gradual buildup of intraocular pressure, leading to irreversible damage to the optic nerve and blindness. The eye constantly produces more aqueous humor (fluid in the front of the eye, between the cornea and the lens). As new fluid is created, an equal amount of fluid should drain from the eye through what is known as the drainage angles. If the angle is not working properly, the aqueous fluid could build up, increasing intraocular pressure, pushing the lens back, and increasing the pressure of the vitreous humor on the retina and optic nerve. Without treatment, this can lead to irreversible blindness.

What are the symptoms of Glaucoma?

Glaucoma generally has no clear warning signs, so it is extremely important to have regular eye exams to check the overall health of your eyes! Your eye care professional can check your intraocular pressure and examine the back of your eye to check for any signs of Glaucoma and initiate a treatment plan to preserve and save your vision. As with many aspects of medicine, early detection is key! This being said, there are some signs and symptoms that could indicate that you should see your eye care professional for a Glaucoma check. If you experience, patchy blind spots, tunnel vision, severe headaches, eye pain, blurred vision, or nausea, you should make an appointment to see your eye doctor as soon as possible. Whether the underlying cause is Glaucoma or not, it is important to be examined.

 

Who is most at risk to develop Glaucoma?

  • Anyone with a family history of Glaucoma
  • African Americans over the age of 40
  • Anyone over the age of 60

Common Treatments of Glaucoma:

  • Medications (special eye drops or oral medications)
  • Laser Surgery
  • More invasive procedures

For More Information:

Yellow Fever

Yesterday afternoon, officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an alert for travelers heading to parts of Brazil. According to the official alert, officials in Brazil’s Ministry of Health have stated that there is an ongoing Yellow Fever outbreak that started in December of 2016. Initially in the Minas Gerais state, cases are now being seen in Sao Paulo and other surrounding areas. It is estimated that over 400 individuals have been infected thus far, with 40 confirmed deaths in humans and possibly 400 deaths in certain species of native monkeys. In an effort to fight back against the spread of this disease, Brazilian authorities are launching a widespread vaccination campaign to help immunize those who are currently unprotected. The CDC recommends that those traveling to effected areas of Brazil get vaccinated against yellow fever, or receive a booster if their last vaccination was over 10 years ago. Currently, there is a shortage of yellow fever vaccine, so getting vaccinated may take longer than usual.

minas-gerais

Map of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, initial site of the current yellow fever outbreak. Brazilian officials are beginning to see yellow fever cases in neighboring Sao Paulo (v-brazil.com)

Here are some facts about Yellow Fever to help keep you informed:

  • The Yellow Fever Virus (YFV) is an RNA virus of the genus Flavivirus – the same family of viruses that includes Dengue and Zika Virus
  • Yellow Fever is commonly found in South America and Africa
  • As with many other diseases, yellow fever virus is a vector-borne disease that is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, either the Aedes or Haemagogus The virus can be spread to other humans if a mosquito bites an infected human and transfer virus with it while taking a blood meal.
  • Most individuals who become infected with yellow fever will experience no symptoms or mild symptoms. For individuals who do experience symptoms, it usually takes between 3-6 days for them to appear after being infected. Common symptoms include:
    • Sudden fever
    • Chills
    • Severe headache
    • Body aches
    • Nausea / vomiting
    • General weakness and fatigue
  • In some cases (15%), the disease takes a severe course and includes symptoms such as high fever, jaundice, bleeding, shock, and possibly, death.
  • There is no treatment for yellow fever, so hospitalized patients will receive general supportive care until the disease works its way out of the body

How to minimize your risk of contracting yellow fever:

  • Get vaccinated!! Unlike other diseases in its family, the yellow fever virus vaccine is very effective at inducing immunity and does not require a booster in most cases. If you live in or are traveling to a region where yellow fever has been known to transmit, getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to remain safe
  • Use mosquito repellent – repellents containing DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus have been proven to work the best
  • Wear appropriate clothing – long sleeve tops and long pants are most effective at minimizing the amount of exposed skin that a mosquito could bite
  • Avoid going outside at dusk and dawn – mosquitoes are most active during these times, so avoiding them will help minimize your risk of being bit

 

87953607_c0093043-feeding_mosquito-spl

The Aedes mosquito, one of the species of mosquito that is involved in the transmission of yellow fever (bbc.com)

 

For more information, please visit:

CDC Yellow Fever Information

CDC February 1, 2017 Travel Alert

CDC Guidelines for Proper Mosquito Repellent Use

Heart Disease

Hi Everyone! Sorry about the delay in getting this post out – since June, I have started graduate school at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark NJ. Last semester was extremely busy, but now that I am in the swing of things, I will be focusing my efforts back on Disease Detective! Going forward, I will be making relevant posts on prevalent diseases. Enjoy!

heart-disease-heart-mesh

For my first post getting back into Disease Detective, I have decided to write about Heart Disease. February is American Heart Month, and with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I figured this topic would be fitting. Below, I have some of the major facts and figures about Heart Disease.

  • Heart Disease is not actually a single disease. The term “Heart Disease” is used to described several different types of heart conditions, including:
    • Atherosclerosis (narrowed, stiffening blood vessels)
    • Heart Failure
    • Heart Attack
    • Arrhythmia (many different types)
    • Congenital Heart Defects
    • Various Heart Valve Conditions
  • Heart Disease is currently the leading cause of death for adults in the United States, with over 600,000 individuals dying each year (as of 2014). One American dies every minute from a condition classified under heart disease.
    • Coronary heart disease alone kills over 365,000 Americans every year
fs_heart_disease

Heart Disease Death Rates in the USA, by County (www.cdc.gov)

  • Since heart disease consists of many different conditions, there is no single set of symptoms to look for. In addition, men and women can experience different symptoms for many of the same conditions. In general, the following symptoms could be signs of an underlying heart condition caused by a atherosclerotic disease,
  • While it used to be considered a fatal diagnosis, Heart Disease is no longer a death sentence – many treatments exist to help patients manage their specific condition and overall health so they can continue to live long lives
  • In many cases, heart disease can be treated non-invasively through the use of medications and lifestyle changes. Adopting a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking any prescription medications your doctor prescribes will help control your condition and improve your health. In some cases however, surgery may need to be performed to correct the condition before it becomes fatal.

 

For more information on Heart Disease, please visit:

American Heart Association

Mayo Clinic Heart Disease Information

CDC Heart Disease

 

Measles

Hi Everyone! Sorry for the delay in getting this post out. I graduated from Drew University a few weeks ago and have been busy seeing family and friends. After my short break, I am back and ready to keep you informed! Going forward, I plan to have a new disease post at regular intervals, so make sure to follow Disease Detective to keep up to date!

This week, I am writing about measles, also known as Rubeola. Measles gained popularity in the media last year when a widespread outbreak began at Disneyland California and sickened many Americans across the West coast. Below, I have outlined the major facts about measles.

measles

Measles Virus (nature.com)

  • Measles is an extremely contagious disease that is caused by the measles virus.
  • The measles virus is commonly spread through contact with infected body fluids and through the air via sneezing and coughing.
  • Globally, measles is one of the leading causes of death for young children.
  • The early symptoms of measles include fever, cough, sore throat, and a runny nose. As the disease progresses, a rash begins to spread across the body, starting on the face and neck, and extending to the rest of the body and limbs.
  • No antiviral treatments exist to treat patients with measles. The standard of care for those who are sickened involves providing supportive therapy to help the body fight off the virus.
  • Patients who do not receive treatment will usually die from complications as a result of the measles virus. Common complications include severe dehydration and high fever, but some severe case may be accompanied by encephalitis and pneumonia.
  • Fortunately, there is an effective vaccine to protect children and adults from contracting the measles virus. The MMR vaccine (measles-mumps-rubella) is administered in two doses to children to develop immunity against the virus. The measles vaccine has been used for over 50 years and is proven to be highly effective and safe. Additionally, vaccinating a child against the measles is very affordable, costing about $1.
  • The WHO has established a goal to eradicate measles by the year 2020. This goal will be reached through an international vaccine effort, coordinated by the WHO.
  • Many measles outbreaks in the United States, where vaccination against measles is mandatory, arise from one of two sources – either an unvaccinated individual travels oversees and contracts the disease, bringing it home and spreading it to others who are unvaccinated; OR a foreign individual who has the measles comes to the United States and spreads the disease to unvaccinated individuals.
measles-torso_300x174_M2100364

Stereotypical rash found on patients with the measles virus (nhs.uk)

 

Keep following Disease Detective to learn more about other diseases! If you have a suggestion for future topics or hear of an interesting news story about diseases that you would like me to address, please comment below!

For more information:

http://www.cdc.gov/measles/

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/

Advice on Making a Blog

Making Disease Detective was a journey that took me weeks to work out the kinks. What started out as a simple interest really grew into a passion to share knowledge with others. If you’re reading this, you are most likely interested in blogging, but are unsure how to get started. I remember being in this situation a few months ago and I figured that this would be a great opportunity to share some advice on how to blog based on what I have found works for me. Below are six key tips to help get your blogs off the ground and build them up to the way you want them to be. Enjoy!

  1. Pick a topic you are passionate about. When I wanted to start my blog, I had an assortment of ideas running through my head about what I could write about. After talking with some friends, I had narrowed my topic down to two main choices. What finally sold me on Disease Detective was my passion to become a physician and to be a part of the medical community. During my undergraduate years at Drew University, I have taken a diverse set of biology courses to provide me with a solid, scientific foundation that allowed me to write about diseases in blog posts that everyone can easily understand. Whatever topic you end up choosing, make sure you have a passion for it, because it will make writing and maintaining the blog much easier. Spending the time now to think about what topic you will write about will save you confusion and aggravation later on.
  1. Determine who your audience will be early in your planning process. Once you establish who your audience is, you can easily write your posts. Deciding your audience takes some time, but can only be decided after you have picked your topic. Writing to a specific audience is important because it will help your blog reach the viewers you are looking for, and it will help you focus the tone of your writing. Getting this out of the way before creating your blog will make it easier to focus on sharing your information when it is time to write posts.
  1. Get started using WordPress. Yes, there are many web design platforms to choose from, but in my opinion, WordPress is one of the easiest platforms to get started on if you have little to no experience. Starting out with a free WordPress account, you can easily configure your blog and have it up and running in a matter of 15 minutes. While picking a theme can be challenging given the numerous options, start out with a simple (free!) theme to get going, and then work to make it your own. Overtime, if you see fit, you can upgrade to paid themes or higher-level WordPress accounts to gain more advanced features, but the free account is more than enough to get you started.
  1. Don’t be afraid to play around with the visual theme of your blog. Once your blog is running, has a few posts, and has some followers, it’s time to work on perfecting the visual appeal of your blog to make it your own. Adjusting the color palette of your theme, or changing the theme all together are some of the fastest ways to change your blogs aesthetics. The visual theme of your blog should complement the topic you are blogging about. For Disease Detective, I choose a simple color palette that tied in the colors in my logo. This theme makes it easy for my readers to comfortably read text, see images, and navigate the blog. Best of all, the theme I choose was free! Find a theme that makes you happy, highlights your hard work, and goes with the topic you are presenting!
  1. Blog on a regular basis! Whether you blog daily, weekly, or biweekly, once you start your blog you should aim to blog on a weekly basis. Admittedly, I have not been 100% perfect on this myself, but if you can blog on a regular basis, you can keep your followers actively engaged with your content. Keeping the web traffic flowing to your blog may not be your priority when you are fresh and starting up, but eventually, you will want to build up your followers so that your hard work can be recognized. Blogging regularly shows that you are more serious about your topic and it gives your followers something to look forward to at a predictable time.
  1. Use social media to help spread your blog when you are ready to attract more followers and traffic. Once you have posted a few posts and have configured your blog the way you want, it is time to start generating some traffic. Expanding your reach is a nice way to showcase your hard work and share your thoughts with others. Social media is one of the easiest ways to do this as you can quickly reach a large amount of people in a short time. Start by making a Twitter account for your blog and linking it to your blog site – doing so will drive traffic between the two places and expand your reach. If you have personal social media accounts, publicize yourself and share the URL for your blog – The more you spread your blog, the more followers you will get.

 

I hope these tips were helpful! If anyone has any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment below and let me know! As I graduate Drew University, I plan to keep Disease Detective running, so enjoy the posts!