A viral year

2013Just before the end of the year, any self-respecting blog is supposed to look back and do a recap. Not necessarily believing in that but falling victim of this tradition, I’d like to share the medical headlines that caught my attention in 2013. Still working on pandemics and major epidemic outbreaks, my primary interests revolve around these and 2013 was a year that saw viruses and epidemics taking a central stage in the medical scene. But even more important than the strictly medical news is perhaps the social aspect that each one of them had. Another good reminder ahead of next year that there are determinants of health and disease that should not be neglected.

Eradicating polio?

Another year passed with polio eradication put on hold. Vaccination campaigns are still mistrusted in a number of countries. Whilst in 2012 only 6 confirmed cases occurred outside endemic countries, in 2013 there were 224. Local crises, fatal shootings, strong anti-vaccination campaigns, and kidnapping of health care workers come to remind that ending polio is more of a political issue rather than medical.

 

Almost there …

The fight against AIDS saw significant progress in 2013. Even though the two cases that made the headlines for not having the virus detected in their blood months after new treatments were proven to be over-optimistic, they gave us the much-needed stimulation to stay positive in this area. In any case, prevention of progression of the disease received another boost in 2013 with the wider availability of anti-retrovirals.

 

… and getting there

Wide availability of anti-retrovirals was not the only victory of 2013, early research that shows that two doses of HPV vaccine may be just as effective as three means that costs, resources and access would potentially be positively affected very significantly and we can consider a cervical cancer-free life for more and more girls across the world.

 

The known problem

50-100 million people still get infected by Dengue fever every year. However, 2013 saw one of the rare occasions when dengue was pushed up in the priority list of a country, as Honduras saw a very worrying outbreak emerging recently and acted accordingly.

 

New perspective

Structural biology gave a boost to medicine this year with the design of new key ingredients for a vaccine against Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Through the crystallisation of an antibody and its structural analysis, a new immunogen was designed. Millions of infants are hospitalised each year due to RSV.

 

A new enemy …

The Middle East Respirator Syndrome (MERS coronavirus) was the new enemy in 2013. It brought great concerns with the big Muslim religious gatherings in autumn, but proved to be a slow killer in secondary cases showing that good management can fight its spread. There is a lot more still to be learnt though, in terms of effective treatments and animal hosts.

 

… the old scare…

Early 2013 saw an outbreak of measles in South Wales. In the age of universal vaccination, such outbreaks are of course unacceptable. It appears that persons that fell ill (with one fatality) were the ones that were small children during the 1990s MMR vaccine scare that prevented a lot of parents from immunising their children. It was a case that really makes us reconsider what we define as preventable epidemic and acceptable losses.

 

… and a new fear

H7N9 was the… fear of the year. A new influenza virus, emerging from the highly densely populated Asian areas causing tens of deaths in a few months seemed like the ideal candidate for a new pandemic. However, a quick and effective response by the Chinese authorities and the low inter-human transmission rate of the virus, saved the day… until the next one.

 

Till next year,

Antonis