The largest ever outbreak of bird flu is spilling over into mammals, including foxes and otters in the UK. Could this transmission see a jump to humans? Dr Thomas Peacock from the Department of Infectious Disease discusses.
Avian influenza virus has been featured prominently in the news again over the past few months. Headlines urge vaccine stockpiling, show images of beaches covered in dead sea birds or seals, or people in hazmat suits carrying bin bags full of dead birds or mink. Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, is another pandemic unavoidable?
We have been in this situation before, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, headlines spoke of ‘bird flu’ – H5N1 viruses ancestral to the ones currently circulating in Europe – as the inevitable coming pandemic. In fact, in 2009 an influenza pandemic did occur, but rather than the deadly H5N1 bird flu, it was caused by an obscure swine influenza virus that passed onto humans and caused the 2009 ‘swine flu’ pandemic.
This festive period Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine will be giving us the gift of wisdom.
Dr Natsuko Imai reflects on the experience of supporting the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to the pandemic.
Despite the introduction of “plan B”, I’m sure many of you will agree with me that, the run-up to Christmas this year still feels very different compared to 2020 when non-essential shops were closed, and we could only meet within our households or support bubbles. The swift introduction of measures and the fact we even have a vaccination programme to accelerate in response to the Omicron variant helps to keep me cautiously optimistic.
My colleagues in the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis and I have been working on COVID-19 since January 2020. This was when the virus was still called “novel coronavirus 2019” and only a handful of cases had been reported outside of mainland China. Since our early assessment of the transmissibility and true size of the epidemic in Wuhan City, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spread to every corner of the world, changing the way we live in ways we could never have imagined.
Before the pandemic, most of my work as the liaison between the Centre and the World Health Organization was co-ordinating analytical support for outbreaks, typically in low- and middle-income countries. Since 2018, I have worked with colleagues on Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, doing rapid real-time analysis to understand – “how bad is the outbreak? How many cases can we expect in the next 3-4 weeks? How many vaccines need to be deployed?”.
This year, I have worked on events closer to home, supporting the Centre’s Imperial College COVID-19 response team who provide key epidemiological insights to help inform the response to COVID-19 both in the UK and abroad. With requests for analysis coming in almost daily in the early days, it has been an intense, but scientifically incredible journey. I am especially thankful for the generosity everyone has shown under all kinds of pressures. (more…)
Justin Bieber’s recent Lyme disease diagnosis has brought the disease into the public eye. Professor Gareth Tudor-Williams explores whether there is a link between tick behaviour and a rise in reported cases.
It’s a fact that every time a high profile individual reveals that they have Lyme disease – the latest being singer Justin Bieber – there is an appreciable spike in internet searches, followed a short while later by an increase in the number of blood samples being sent for testing to the Public Health England national reference laboratory at Porton Down.
So this trend would suggest that the publicity about Lyme disease increases health-seeking behaviour in this country, which in turn leads to more cases being diagnosed.
All of which begs several questions. Is the incidence truly rising or are more people being diagnosed who would not previously have been tested? Are there significant numbers of people living in the UK with undiagnosed and therefore untreated infection? What proportion of untreated infected individuals develop long-term health problems? (more…)
Nora Schmit was shortlisted for the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2019 for the following article on her PhD research on predicting the impact of treatment for hepatitis B infection on preventing liver cancer in The Gambia.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of cancer prevention? Maybe you’re thinking of not smoking or maintaining a healthy weight – great strategies to reduce your chance of getting cancer.
But did you know that the hepatitis B vaccine, introduced in the 1980s, has long protected children in many parts of the world from developing one of the most common and deadliest cancers later in life?
Although most people have no symptoms when they first become infected, the hepatitis B virus is the leading cause of liver cancer worldwide. Large-scale efforts to tackle the virus using vaccination have been hugely successful in preventing infections in children. Despite this remarkable achievement, hepatitis B infections are still very common and nearly a million people die from its consequences every year. With around 6% of all people living in Africa currently infected, the death toll there is expected to rise even further.
But while a liver cancer diagnosis is nearly always fatal, treating the infection is possible with the same drugs that work against HIV. So why do so few people receive these drugs, when over half of all liver cancer deaths globally are preventable? (more…)
In this post, Jennifer Shelton provides an insight into her PhD project which involves over 500 citizen scientists from across the world, in the hope of better understanding a species of fungus that is linked to disease.
It started by a poolside in Gran Canaria.
I was reading my book but thinking about the sticky films we use in the lab to cover plates of DNA that a former postdoc in my group had used to collect Penicillium spores for his study on the population genetics of ‘Alexander Fleming’s lucky fungus’. I’d already decided as part of my PhD to conduct a country-wide survey to determine background levels of Aspergillus fumigatus – a species of fungus – spores in the UK. I had put aside several weeks for driving around the country to collect air and soil samples, yet thoughts of a citizen science project kept buzzing. What if I asked individuals across the UK to collect samples of their local air on a single day, say summer solstice, and post them back to me?
Citizen science projects are increasing in popularity and rely on members of the public to voluntarily collect samples, process data or record observations as part of a research project. Some well-known examples include SETI@Home, which uses internet-connected computers to analyse telescope data in the search for extra-terrestrial life; Foldit, an online video game about protein folding and Swab & Send, a widespread swabbing exercise to identify novel antibiotics in the environment. (more…)
As healthcare becomes high-tech with electronic healthcare records widely used, Eleanor Axson provides an insight into the power of medical record data for researchers.
When I was little, going to my GP meant seeing a manila file being pulled out from a mass of identical looking files and watching her write down my measurements and test results. The file grew as I did, each year adding to my entire medical history. All in one manila folder.
Things have changed. There is no longer a manila folder growing steadily right alongside me; rather, I watch my GP click and type all my medical history into a computer. Electronic healthcare records (EHR) have irreversibly changed our doctor-going experience and they are certainly here to stay. Your electronic healthcare record contains all the information your old paper one did. Demographics, vital statistics, diagnoses, medications, medical tests, etc. (more…)
Dr Anne Cori and Dr Marc Baguelin explain why they need the public’s help to help make data on epidemics like Ebola and Zika more accurate.
Controlling epidemics relies on key decisions, like how many hospital beds are needed and who should be vaccinated or treated first. These decisions rely on data about people who are infected, but mistakes can be made when entering information, which can lead to incorrect decisions being made.
What is the Typo Challenge?
The Typo Challenge is a fun challenge where you are asked to type dates into an app on your computer, laptop, tablet or phone, which helps us collect information about what kind of mistakes people make when they enter dates electronically. With this information we want to create software for researchers trying to better understand how epidemics spread so when they receive data about epidemics in the future they will be able to automatically check the results for accuracy by using the software. (more…)
Katharina Hauck speaking at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos (Copyright by World Economic Forum / Sikarin Thanachaiary)
To mark World AIDS Day 2017, we have published a series of blog posts to highlight the important and varied research that takes places at Imperial. Three experts from Faculty of Medicine share their interest in HIV/AIDS which spans from the elusive vaccine to the economics of the epidemic.
World AIDS Day takes place annually on 1 December as an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV and to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
The role of an economist in the HIV epidemic
As an economist, my research on HIV takes a higher-level population view. We advise policy makers in governments and international organisations on the cost-effectiveness of preventive and treatment interventions in the countries most ravaged by HIV. By estimating the benefits and costs of interventions, we can identify the ones that promise greatest improvements in population health. (more…)
As we mark the fifth annual World Polio Day, Dr Edward Parker talks about Imperial’s research supports the polio eradication initiative in a number of ways.
Imagine you are running a marathon. You have reached the final mile of a long and arduous journey. You turn the last corner expecting to see the finish line, and instead you see a huge vertical ascent. The finish line is waiting at the top, hundreds of metres above you.
Such is the plight of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. In 1988, the year the initiative was launched, polio paralysed an estimated 350,000 people worldwide – roughly 1,000 each day. Over the last three decades, a globally coordinated vaccination campaign has fought the disease back to a few remaining refuges in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. In 2017, wild poliovirus has caused just 12 cases so far. (more…)
Today is World Rabies Day. Christl Donnelly explains why giving rabies vaccinations is the path to global eradication by 2030.
The goal of this global day is enhanced awareness spurring further efforts to prevent rabies, a viral disease that kills tens of thousands of people each year mainly in Asia and Africa. Two years ago, international organisations – including the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health – agreed to an ambitious, but achievable common goal: to end human deaths due to canine rabies by 2030. In fact, ‘Rabies: Zero by 30’ is the theme of the 2017 World Rabies Day. (more…)