The Global Fool

our planet is our village

Measles outbreak in Samoa: potential effects of immune amnesia on the impact of COVID-19
Nov08

Measles outbreak in Samoa: potential effects of immune amnesia on the impact of COVID-19

Measles—one of the world’s most contagious diseases—induces immune amnesia, an anomaly of the immune system that results in increased susceptibility to infections by other pathogens. Not surprisingly, there are concerns globally about populations that have recently experienced measles outbreaks. These populations could be at elevated risk of developing more severe COVID-19 illness, resulting in increased mortality.    The emergence of the current COVID-19 pandemic in the first months of 2020 occurred closely after a global resurgence of measles. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by November 2019, measles case numbers had tripled compared with the same period in the previous year. Measles spreads easily when an infected person coughs or sneezes and, before a vaccine became widely available in the 1960s, it caused millions of deaths worldwide annually. It is estimated that between the years 2000-2018, vaccination against measles alone saved around 23 million lives. However, measles outbreaks occurred in the past few years in all regions of the world and in many countries—from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to Samoa and Ukraine. These outbreaks, along with inadequate immunization rates, threaten to derail the crucial gains obtained in the two past decades. Measles virus, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Last year, in Samoa—a small island country in the central South Pacific Ocean—an unprecedented measles outbreak overwhelmed the nation’s health infrastructure, with hospitals at about 300% past capacity. Before the outbreak began, vaccination rates—already lower than the approximately 95 percent required for herd immunity—had plunged to 31%. The first case of measles was confirmed in September 2019 and, on November 15, the government declared a state of emergency. Up to 3% of the population became infected, and 87 people died, mostly very young. The state of emergency was lifted in December 2019. However, measles may have long-term consequences. Even after recovery, immune amnesia can persist for over 2 years. Results from a study published a few days ago indicate that, in Samoa, immune amnesia may result in more severe cases of COVID-19. To model the morbidity and mortality impact of a potential COVID-19 epidemic in the country, researchers used data from the WHO situation reports of the measles epidemic in Samoa, and assumed that immune amnesia would be present in children infected from November 2019 onward for at least 12 months and up to 36 months.   They found that immune amnesia could increase the total number of COVID-19 cases by 8% and deaths by more than 2%. The highest rate of death would be in people older than 60 years, but a smaller peak in death could occur in younger people, with more than 15% of total deaths in the...

Read More
The unborn baby: Healthy pregnant mothers exposed to air pollution from road traffic inhale toxic particles that may end up in the placenta
Sep28

The unborn baby: Healthy pregnant mothers exposed to air pollution from road traffic inhale toxic particles that may end up in the placenta

By Roberta Attanasio According to a recently published study, carbon and metal particles from road traffic, once inhaled, reach one of the many places where we would rather not find them—the unborn baby’s life support system, best known as placenta. Lead author Jonathan Grigg said: “Our study for the first time shows that inhaled carbon particulate matter in air pollution, travels in the blood stream, and is taken up by important cells in the placenta.” For the study, researchers analyzed placentas from 15 healthy non-smoking women, donated after the birth of their children. All women delivered healthy babies. However, they lived in an environment that exposed them to high levels of particulate matter originating from urban traffic. Indeed, the particles observed in the placental cells closely resemble—in size, shape and composition—those emitted by traffic-related sources or formed from them.   Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash Particulate matter (also called particle pollution) is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air, which come in many sizes and shapes and are made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope. Some particles are emitted by construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires, but most form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles. The researchers found—within the placental cells—not only carbon particles, but also particles containing carbon with a mixture of chemicals found in vehicle exhaust, such as iron, phosphorus, calcium, silica, aluminum, titanium, chromium, and cerium, which arise from fuel and oil additives. How did these particles get into the placental cells? Particles present in air pollution are inhaled, and then from the lungs translocate to distant organs through the blood stream. Macrophages and trophoblasts— the primary resident phagocytes in the placenta—pick them up. Phagocytes are cells of the innate immune system also known as the “big eaters”—they engulf the particles with the aim of “cleaning up” the placenta. Lisa Miyashita, a study co-author, said: “We have thought for a while that maternal inhalation could potentially result in pollution particles traveling to the placenta once inhaled. However, there are many defense mechanisms in the lung that prevent foreign particles from traveling elsewhere, so it was surprising to identify these particles in the placental cells from all 15 of our participants.” Why is it worrisome to find particulate matter in placental cells? “The placenta is a distinctive and...

Read More
Allergies in Young Children: Effects of Exposure to Multiple Air Pollutants During Prenatal and Early Life
Dec10

Allergies in Young Children: Effects of Exposure to Multiple Air Pollutants During Prenatal and Early Life

By Roberta Attanasio The frequency of allergies in children keeps rising rapidly worldwide, but it’s not clear why. However, it is acknowledged that developing even one type of allergy early in life is almost like turning on a switch—it can start children on a path to more. “The progression of skin allergies to asthma and allergic rhinitis is called the allergic or atopic march. Atopic dermatitis is an itchy, inflammatory skin allergy that, before 1960, affected fewer than 3% of children; by the 2000s it had increased to around 20%. A child with atopic dermatitis is more likely to develop other allergic conditions or symptoms. For example, about 70% of people with severe atopic dermatitis have asthma, whereas in those without atopic dermatitis, only about 8% have asthma—a nearly 9-fold difference.” According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, atopy refers to the genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and atopic dermatitis (eczema). Atopy is typically associated with heightened immune responses, more specifically with excessive IgE production in response to common allergens, especially inhaled allergens and food allergens. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash Atopicn diseases (eczema, asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis) are clinical syndromes each defined by a group of symptoms and signs. Not all children with atopy will have atopic disease or develop symptoms after exposure to an allergen. Both genetic and environmental factors determine the development of atopic disease. Now, results from a new study show that there is a significant association between multiple prenatal and early life exposures to indoor pollutants and the degree of allergic sensitivity in 2 year old children. Now, results from a new study show that there is a significant association between multiple prenatal and early life exposures to indoor pollutants and the degree of allergic sensitivity in 2 year old children. For the study, researchers followed 108 mother-child pairs from birth to 2 years of age. They obtained data on the exposure to air fresheners, candles, mold, cats, dogs, carpet and environmental tobacco smoke during the prenatal, 6-month, 1-year, and 2-year timepoints. Then, they performed a skin prick test on both the mother and the 2-year-old child. A skin prick test, also called a puncture or scratch test, checks for immediate allergic reactions to as many as 40 different substances at once. This test is usually done to identify allergies to pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites and foods. In adults, the test is usually done on the forearm, whereas children may be tested on the upper back. The researchers found that exposure to candles during the prenatal window, cats during the 6 month window, and environmental tobacco smoke at 2 years significantly increased the risk of a positive...

Read More
Environmental Toxins and Damage to the Immune System: Transgenerational Effects
Dec05

Environmental Toxins and Damage to the Immune System: Transgenerational Effects

By Roberta Attanasio The hypothesis of the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD), also called “Barker’s hypothesis”, was formulated a few decades ago and stimulated interest in the fetal origins of adult disorders. Subsequent research by Mohan Manikkam and Michael Skinner helped establish the principle of transgenerational toxicity by showing that the effects of toxic chemicals can extend even to the third generation of offspring. Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash Indeed, it is now clear that early life development is a critical and unique window of vulnerability during which environmental exposures influence cellular programming in ways that shape health and disease later in life. While most research on the transgenerational effects of environmental chemicals focuses on the reproductive, nervous, or endocrine systems, results from a recently published study show that environmental toxins may also impair the immune system. Paige Lawrence, senior author of the study, said in a press release: “The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a touchstone for many aspects of human health. But in terms of the body’s ability to fights off infections, this study suggests that, to a certain extent, you may also be what your great-grandmother ate.” To carry out the study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to dioxin, a common by-product of industrial production and waste incineration which is also found in some consumer products. Thus, dioxins are environmental pollutants. They belong to the so-called “dirty dozen”—a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Dioxins are of concern because of their highly toxic potential. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher an animal is in the food chain, the higher the concentration of dioxins. Therefore, dioxins are found in greater concentrations in animal-based food products. Once dioxins enter the body, they last a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be 7 to 11 years.  After exposing pregnant mothers to dioxin, they assessed the production and function of cytotoxic T cells in the offspring. To do so, they infected the mice with influenza A virus, and found that exposure of the pregnant mothers to dioxin resulted in an impaired cytotoxic T cell response of the offspring against the influenza A virus. The impaired cytotoxic T cell response was observed not only in the offspring of the mice whose mothers where exposed to dioxin, but also in subsequent generations, up to the rodent equivalent of great-grandchildren.   Lawrence said: “When you are infected or receive a flu vaccine, the immune system ramps up production of...

Read More
As coal mining declines, community mental health problems linger
Aug02

As coal mining declines, community mental health problems linger

By Roberta Attanasio The U.S. coal industry is in rapid decline, a shift marked not only by the bankruptcy of many mine operators in coal-rich Appalachia but also by a legacy of potential environmental and social disasters. As mines close, states, the federal government and taxpayers are left wondering about the costs of cleaning up the abandoned land, especially at mountaintop removal sites, the most destructive type of mining. As coal companies go bankrupt, this has left states concerned taxpayers may have to pick up the environmental cleanup costs. But there are also societal costs related to mountaintop removal mining’s impact on health and mental health. As an immunologist, I reviewed the research literature for specific effects of mountaintop removal mining on the immune system. I did not identify any pertinent information. However, I did find plenty of clues suggesting that health and mental health issues will pose enormous challenges to the affected coal communities, and will linger for decades. Environmental contaminants The communities that reside in proximity to the devastated lands where mountaintop removal mining occurs – some of the poorest in the nation – are concentrated in a 65-county area in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee. They are also hit by the economic downturn caused by the decline of the local coal industry. Healthwise, Appalachian populations suffer disproportionately higher morbidity and mortality compared with the nation as a whole. A study that examined the elevated mortality rates in Appalachian coal mining areas for 1979-2005 linked coal mining to “socioeconomic disadvantages” and concluded that the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighed its economic benefits. Results from research published in 2011 show that mountaintop mining areas, in particular, are associated with the lowest health-related quality of life even in comparison to counties with other forms of coal mining. So, what makes mountaintop removal mining such a scourge for human health? To remove the top of the mountains, coal companies use destructive processes. In order to extract the underlying coal seams, a peak’s forest and brush are clear-cut and the topsoil is scraped away. The resulting debris is often set on fire. Then, explosives are poured into huge holes to literally blast off up to 800 to 1,000 feet of mountaintops. Draglines – huge machines able to scoop up to 100 tons in a single load – push rock and dirt into nearby streams and valleys, damaging waterways and life associated with them. The result is not only a devastated landscape and the crushing of entire ecosystems, but also the dispersion in the environment of toxic pollutants. To learn more about the...

Read More