Friday, 26 August 2016

Get off my lawn you experts!

Two things were suggested by Richard P Grant in his recent piece for the Guardian, as reasons why scientists are losing the battle to communicate science.[1] 

First, scientists keep telling people how to live their lives and second, scientists don't listen to people.

Okay - I agree. Scientists do that. When I started on social media, I mentally added "try not to be a supercilious git" to my list of things to do to be a better human being. That was up there with "make memories for my kids", "always work at my marriage", "don't speak ill of other people", "listen instead of interrupting", "don't be unintentionally racist", "be conscious of innate bias"...the list goes on and keeps growing. 

But I still come across as a supercilious git on occasion. I'm not really sorry about that though. The main reason I do so is because my tribe is that of the scientist (#tribescience ?). A few different science tribes really. I've spent the past 30 years picking up the ways of my tribe - certain phrases, learning to speak in certain ways, using big scientific words, writing with a certain pattern, producing documents that everyone - including me - find boring, seeing patterns and thinking about how things around me can be tested, seeking out the next big idea that will fund my life and home loan and trying to remain agile enough to be prepared to update those views and words when all that I've learned changes in an instant. Imposter syndrome for an academic can drive the need to sound just as supercilious as our peers. It's a lot of baggage to set down if you dip in and out of interpreting science for the public. Facts, not excuses.

As a little experiment, I thought I'd look at how far listening got me when related to the "dangerous ones" [1]- the hardcore anti-vaccination believers. Not my first attempt to understand this group and not my last.

I'd already been in a small chat where someone @MaykeBriggs (not an anti-vaxxer let me stress) had suggested pesticides and "vaccine toxin" exposure should be looked at in relation to Zika virus and microcephaly in Brazil. I'd asked which toxins and we'd had a discussion about phenoxyethanol, used as a preservative in vaccines.[2,3] Interestingly, phenoxyethanol is used widely, because of its fragrant properties, in shampoos, toilet soaps, decorative cosmetics and is found naturally in avocado, endive and tea for example.[3] The things you learn when you read around a topic!

Example of anti-vax brochure.
Next I received a snippet of an abstract by tweet from @LaLaRueFrench75. This went back and forth and just before I went to sleep got a request to comment on a couple of slides of aggregated science and theory by @2ndfor1st. When I woke up I had more tweets awaiting my sultana bran breakfast than on any day during the worst of the Ebola virus event (which got pretty busy for me). 

I'd apparently inadvertently poked an anti-vaccine nest with a stick.

I Storified the whole thing if anyone wants to check it out. 

The biggest thing for me was, I couldn't have told this group how to live their lives even if I'd wanted to! There was no discussion to be engaged in-just me being shown their material from several tweeters at once. Attempts to correct obviously wrong material were ignored, shouted down or artfully sidestepped.

I took a few other things away from this:

  • These are not the vaccine hesitant [5] - people sitting on the fence about whether this or that vaccine may be good or bad for their child. These are fully engaged professional aggregators of content, curates into a story to support whichever thread they are interested in highlighting.
    This group create slick websites, videos, brochures and run a tight campaign to recruit like-minded followers and cast aspersions upon efforts to make our children even more healthy, reduce the burden of chronic disease and prolong life. 
  • A central theme seems to be that there is a conspiracy to force their children to be injured by vaccination, perhaps mostly in relation to mandated vaccination, but vaccines in general.
    But the community today could not show me any example of this injury. It has become a ethereal symbol for the movement, but there is no form nor substance to the claims of death or severe harm by vaccination.
  • If you choose to engage with this group, pick a particular point to address and do not let yourself be dragged away from it by the constant movement of goalposts you'll encounter. If you don't get the answer you're asking for, say that and move on.
  • If you are a scientist planning to engage the public - engage with this group. There is much to learn about communication and about yourself.
    You may be pilloried by your peers (psst - just don't tell them), but you may also gain important experience with extreme believers and very alternate viewpoints.
  • Those against using vaccines - at least based on my example - are mostly focused on the secondary ingredients especially preservatives and adjuvants - aluminium, phenoxyethanol, thiomersal.
    This is pretty low hanging fruit though, because there could be more scientific studies to address some of the questions asked. Science has made a rod for its own back here.
  • This group do have valid concerns. But instead of being able to believe or engage experts, they choose to actively decry them as the puppets of commercial interests and instead seek out words, sentences, clips and snippets to support their views about their concerns.
    Based on a lot of reading this past few days, this material is often "home made", out of context, quote studies that employ excessively high amounts of the chemical in question, or use the chemical repeatedly in a way that does not at all reflect vaccination, or use studies that do not have suitable control groups (h/t @JATetro).
  • The misuse of funds by medical doctors was also a big thing among this group. Apparently this extends to scientists - although that's laughable to me as I'm a science Doctor who has spent many years experiencing how hard it is to scrape together money to get to a conference let alone travel the globe in style.
    I'm aware of the conflict of interest issues pertaining to medical doctors being paid by pharmaceutical interests. The presumption today was clearly that these payments sway these evil doctors towards prescribing that company's products, including more use of vaccines.
    Oversight of vaccines both during early safety and subsequent clinical trials and when later while being monitored for adverse events once they are commercialised, requires experts to come together to review data (costly) - data which themselves are very expensive to collect and collate.
    These payments, must be transparently documented or else consumer trust is rightly shaken. 
  • Those who invent, develop, administer and oversee use of vaccines are seen as different
    "Them and us"
    humans from the true believer anti-vaxxers. This may be for ulterior motives or because of a past bad experience.
    The impression I got was that the  professionals are not thought of as having the same skin in the game - their own families, lives and children - as do "the public".
    Do some of our science and medical doctors need to humanise more, at least in this space?  
  • If you write about scientists who try and engage with the public, maybe think more deeply about the term "science communication". Currently it seems to cover everything that comes out of the mouth/keyboard of a scientist. Its too broad. How about adding some more terms? What about Science Interpretation? Science Engagement? If you paint all science communication as coming from a place of arrogance and control, you paint every scientist, even those who honestly try to do better, as arrogant and controlling.
    That's some poor research right there.
    It's also a tone that is likely to discourage other scientists out of their highly competitive, poorly funded, stressful, depressing, abusive, overcrowded, biased, "cosy little bubble and make an effort to reach people where they are, where they are confused and hurting; where the need"
Of course, if we do seek out people who seem confused, there is no guarantee we'll be able to get a word in edgewise. That does make being a tribal and supercilious git all the more challenging. But it's what we scientists excel out. Right?


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Tests and temps...

From [10]
It's been about 5 weeks since Brazil updated its microcephaly-related-to-Zika-virus reporting index page. 

The last post listed (a couple of others made their way out via other channels) was from epidemiological week (EW) No. 26. 

For comparison, Colombia is about to post data for EW No. 32. [12]

Interestingly, Colombia's National Institute of Health has not seen any new laboratory confirmed Zika virus disease cases during that same period - so perhaps Brazil is not seeing any either?

Temperature graphs (in Celsius) from
Top-Miami Beach, Florida.
Bottom-Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Meanwhile, more of the US state of Florida is seeing local Zika virus spread.[4,5,6] If we look at the temperature graphs we can see that Miami Beach (around 32'C)  is certainly a lot warmer and holding more steady than Rio (around 24'C) in August 2916. 

High and fluctuating temperatures are important for flavivirus multiplication in mosquitoes but for the mosquitoes themselves, particularly Aedes aegypti, they can live for about the same period (around 3 weeks) when conditions suit, whether at 26'C or 30'C.[12,13]

As I was recently taught by Rebbeca C Christofferson and Anthony Willson, viral loads do better in mosquitoes living at an optimal temperature. But when more Dengue virus for example, is replicating throughout the mosquito, that can have an effect on the length of their lives, even if not having an immediate impact on mortality.[14]

When you stop and think about it there is a lot going on for a mosquito when it takes a big blood meal. 

There could be a huge rapid weight gain, and there can be a 20'C temperature difference between the host's blood and the insect's temperature - that's a big shock at any size! There is also a big osmotic imbalance (difference in osmotic pressure due to the concentration of dissolved solids in the host's blood versus that in the insect's hemolymph [8,9]) and there's a need to get rid of toxic metabolites.[1] 

Have you seen that big drop of excreted fluid attached to some species of mosquito's butt? It appears once feeding has started and is something they excrete (urine and concentrated red blood cells; a process called prediuresis) to help them balance osmolarity, offset weight gain and sometimes to regulate their temperature through evaporation.[2,7] 

Some mosquito species retain the drop ('drop-keeping') making use of evaporative cooling, some emit new drops.[7] As far as I can tell so far, Aedes species don't make use of the drop for cooling. Male mosquitoes don't heat up because they don't feed on blood so they rely on environmental temperatures for heating and cooling.[7]

So much more reading to be done (apologies for errors above - I'm still learning about mozzies) - just not of data from Brazil.

  1. Thermal Stress and Thermoregulation During Feeding in Mosquitoes

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Social media scientists - we're probably still talking mostly to ourselves...

The following is an opinion piece so it has words like "seem" and many feels. Please take it as such.

A definition of grey literature from
 The University of Queensland.[2]
The grey (US: gray) literature is that written material which is not part of the "traditional" publishing model - unpublished, privately published or non-commercial writings.[1,2,10] GreyLit can also includes blogs and tweets and other such social media (SoMe) output.

Blogs, tweets, facebook posts can all be produced far more rapidly than any peer-reviewed literature - I tweeted yesterday about having an accepted manuscript sitting with a publisher for over 19 weeks and counting. GreyLit can be edited easily and can reach further because they are openly accessible to the public. SoMe is a great way to distribute current events - like detail on disease outbreaks for example. But the GreyLit may not be secured by a permanent object identifier, or a stable website address, nor are they listed on the US National Library of Medicine's PubMed literature database, and their meaning can be changed when edited leaving nary a trace of what came before - these change are often seen with public health GreyLit. GreyLit can be short-lived and may be considered risky to cite; it's volatile.

Scientists cite serious scientists...

Given all that, it's pretty unsurprising that grey writings are often uncited by the more permanent traditional academic literature (books and journal articles for example) - at least not by those in my research fields. In general, scientists generally stick with citing the traditional serious academic [13] scientific literature. This is despite GreyLit harbouring more timely and leading edge discussions and often being more digestible by both the public and those scientists who are sick to death of intentionally and arrogantly dense writing.

It's pretty clear that we scientists write scientific literature for other scientists-it's a great place to catalogue full descriptions of methods and expert evaluation.[3] Of course, even serious science does not always get cited by other scientists.[3] It's difficult to gauge how much it even gets read. It can also be behind a "paywall" - a closed access approach requiring payment to cover article production costs and to make a profit for the publisher of course-it is a business not a charity. To get a scientific publication into an open access platform an author's grant or institution pays for the privilege. Costs vary (nicely outlined in this piece from 2013;[4]).

Papers keep coming out at an increasing rate...

Biomedical publications listed on PubMed
Made by searching on date +/-
journal name.
Click on image to enlarge.
Biomedical publication numbers are increasing each year according to PubMed numbers (see the graph). In 1992 there were a third (416,310) as many publications on PubMed as there were in 2015 (1,244,277). In 2004 half as many as in 2015. Conventional paper printed (+ online) journals do not seem to have scaled their output to keep pace with this rate of increase - so it may follow that many top tier papers have to find homes among less luxurious journals. Purely online journals, like PLoSOne in the graphed example, do seem to scale with demand-being online makes them more nimble and accommodating. A win for them and a plus for science, researchers and the public if that journal has a reliable and trusted brand. 

What about the many, many new fee-for-publication "journals" appearing? There is no evidence that many of them are trustworthy at all. Some have yet to be around long enough to get listed on PubMed and there is a justifiable sense that in publishing with them, ones work may never get editorial support or be visible to search in the future. Another risk - this one to science in general - is that some of these journals have been clearly identified as predatory (in it for the $$$[11,12]). 

Predatory journals may simply be a dumping ground for badly written bad science that is poorly or not reviewed and a wasteland for science that is not visible to standard search methods. And it may be volatile. A new type of GreyLit. 

While it may be a great feeling to add papers to the publication list of a curriculum vitae (CV), it will ultimately reflect poorly on scientists because poor science and conclusions will be ignored or be challenged and found wanting. None of this is good for the science brand.

But what about academics talking to the public directly?

When we unserious academics venture onto SoMe to be unserious, we may still be talking to ourselves. We tend to attract followers who are like-minded and/or have a mindset that already leans towards the search for knowledge and understanding. Such followers seem like people who generally read a lot, they are willing to learn new things and they don't usually just accept what they read in their timelines to be the absolute truth. I love discussing stuff with them - it can get robust at times -but that just challenges us all and that is a good thing. I just don't think these followers necessarily represent the majority of our communities. 

How can we scientists drop reason into the mix of conflict, rage and ignorance that is seeking to darken the lives of communities everywhere? 

Perhaps by more of us stepping up. 

Some of my peers are thoroughly knotted up in self-indulgent arguments around only speaking in public on research topics they are expert in. This parochial and short-term view is at odds with the likely benefit that years of experience in logical and ordered thinking and problem solving could provide to the chaotic world our communities are increasingly faced with. 

But academics adding to the GreyLit are faced by the real need to spend our writing time predominantly on scientific journal articles and grant applications. The GreyLit may still not be seen to add value to a CV that is needed in order to get/keep a job and pay the bills-even if a single good piece may reach tens of thousands of people, instead of ten.

Today can seek out the facts we want to read...

The public can now individually collect and curate their own sources of news and information much more easily than we used to. 

Not that long ago we relied more on a limited range of radio, TV news or newspapers to find out what was happening in our local or global communities. We had that material delivered by professional journalists (yes, there were exceptions). But now we can source our news ourselves or from like-minded anonymous avatars who gather together news snippets into what they consider a theme, may do no research or have any understanding of the history underlying a topic, have no grasp of the subject or of when balance is or is not needed and feel no need to present information with accuracy. Kinda like those real journalists used to do. But today's "journalism" - a seemingly shrinking profession anyway - often seems relegated to the production of suitably emotive and inflammatory clickbait. The new news curators run on feels and likes and their followers are thus "informed". 

You have to look no further than recent events in the UK and US to see examples of how this can have real world outcomes.

The age of expertise is gone, welcome to the age of extreme emotion... 

Those of us academics who wish to continue being unserious but who wish to help provide factual information in an age of anti-expertise [5,6] and anti-intellectualism [7,8,9] are faced with some real challenges. 

How do we make sure all our lab/bench/desk work is not wasted effort and dollars? 

How do we help turn around some of the dangerous, illogical and factless sentiments polluting our peace? 

If few are reading science and the public are not understanding science and if science is not contributing to the daily discussion and if the loudest most emotive voices are the ones that determine our future, then politicians will not be driven to fund science and teachers will not be empowered to teach science and logic, and science will increasingly stop being done. 

That outcome is just not acceptable. 

So the main question I leave you with is, how do we unserious scientists reach the audiences we'd like to write for - those who are not simulacra of ourselves? 


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Spillover: tales of the zoonosis...

I highly recommend this document on tonight in the United States and hopefully coming to your country soon thereafter.

I had a small advisory role (see proof below!) on this over the course of about 19 months and I can assure you that it is a beautifully put together, visually delicious and educational summary of some of our planet's most recent animal>>human viral outbreak events.

Spillover credits, Page 1.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Editor's Note #26: Virology Down under gets an award!!

Well this is some pretty cool news to wake up to on a Friday morning!!

Virology Down Under (this blog and its extended presence on LinkedIn and Facebook) has just been awarded one of "Top Innovations of the Year of 2016" awards for global engagement.

I'm one proud little blogger!

With the moniker of Join. Contribute. Make A Difference, has been a welcome addition to the field of open, public-speak communication of health information and provides an avenue for health professionals to explain things to an eager and wide audience. 

My partner in crime (and life) @kat_arden and I have written a few pieces for this site now, including our latest effort - The Language of Zika Virus Testing. No doubt we'll contribute more as time allows and needs dictate. 

If you haven't already, it's also a great idea to have a try at writing in a different non-academic style of language too.' editors can help you out with that if needed. 

We also love that is open-access, free and shares our enthusiasm for wanting to make a difference in some way.

You can see other award winners at:

Thanks team - #VirolDU is honoured to be a part of your goals.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Public Zika virus data can be volatile Zika virus data...

So it turns out I hadn't had a stroke or started losing my mind. 

....10 hours earlier....

I received an answer to my questions tweeted at the Colombian National Institute of Health asking why Colombia's Zika virus (ZIKV) data had been revised downward. Was it simply data cleaning? How did it happen? Why now? As you can see from the drop in weekly figures (that last red bar), it was a quite a cleanup if so - a drop in 5,000 cases!
Graph No. 1. The cumulative curve of suspected ZVD cases
(pink circles, left-hand axis) and the change in suspected ZVD case
numbers when compared to the preceding week's total
(red bars, right-hand axis) including the original
epidemiological week No. 28 data. Data from [1].
Click on graph to enlarge.

Graph No.2. The cumulative curve of confirmed ZIKV infections 
(lilac circles, left-hand axis) and the change in confirmed ZIKV infection 
numbers when compared to the preceding week's total 
(purple bars, right-hand axis). Now added the reported umber of microcephaly cases 
confirmed as ZIKV infected (yellow bars, right-hand axis) including the original 
epidemiological week No. 28 data. To account for adjustments 
that take cases away when there is no weekly case growth, a negative 
value - the y-axes now allow for negative values. Data from [1]. 
Click on graph to enlarge.

Dr Fernando Ruiz, the Deputy Minister of Public Health and Service Delivery Colombia kindly engaged me on Twitter, telling me that each week their data get adjusted to account for current and former week's lags. I sent him Graph 1 above to try and reiterate that this past epidemiological week had been a bit different than any other this year. When he bounced some numbers at me something seemed weird - these were different from what I'd recorded. 

Sure enough, my spreadsheet no longer matched up with the numbers I'd harvested on Sunday morning (my time, AEST) from the Week No.28 Colombian Epidemiological Bulletin.

Weird. My usual first reaction - it's all my fault. Had I been daydreaming when I copied the numbers across? Had my Excel formulae betrayed me (never!)? Had the kids edited my blog? Had the cat sneakily deleted and typed a few figures. Had I had a small cerebral incident? Am I having one now?

Am I doomed to never know the answer?

Thankfully, @FluTrackers had a post from @thelonevirologi including charts and numbers from the Colombian data and sure enough a key figure was there that was common to both our datasets - but no longer anywhere to be found on the Colombian bulletin - 7 166 confirmed laboratory cases. And, coming to the rescue of my sanity, @thelonevirologi still had the original PDF - the data had indeed been released wrongly and then corrected and re-released by the National Institute of Health. Phew.

Public data are volatile

This really is a stark reminder that public data are volatile and can change. 

Sometimes that change may not be identified by the publisher - no version numbering and no note to say what changed and why. Simple stuff to add, but sometimes completely absent. 

We bloggers, who live in the 'grey literature' world (and rarely attract citations from the scientific literature), may be better at understanding the need to own our changes and mistakes. We often try to correct them in a way that is obvious to those who use or even rely on our information. This is just good practice.

And what about Colombia's ZIKV numbers this week?

As to the updated ZIKV figures from Colombia, the revised versions show that clinically suspect ZIKV disease cases do in fact continue to rise (+933) and that there were 22 more confirmed cases among pregnant women added this past week. No general ZIKV disease confirmations were reported after the 176 from last week and no new cases of ZIKV-associated microcephaly were added this week after 4 consecutive weeks of growth. Perhaps this is one of those laboratory 'off weeks'.

Colombia notes that it expects ZIKV-related microcephaly cases to increase in September and October 2016 as more pregnant women come to term.[2] A nearly 8% increase in (known) miscarriages has already been reported in Colombia but no rise in the use of abortion clinics which might otherwise "hide" the congenital impact of ZIKV infection not registered as microcephaly.[3] 

Given these ZIKV infections are still being suspected and detected, it seems very strange that Colombia picked now to declare it's epidemic over.[2] For certain, numbers have been slowing each week for at least 6 weeks but they are still being reported (perhaps just lagging older results?). 

A quick summary: sexual events play a role in ZIKV transmission, persistence of virus is real at several sites, we have not yet examined all possible transmission avenues (oral and respiratory epithelium, eyes, ingestion) and we still don't know whether the 80% of cases that are asymptomatic play any role in human-to-mosquito or human-to-human transmission nor whether that 80% figure still holds today. 

Perhaps the Colombians simply mean that the ZIKV numbers per week have fallen below some arbitrary internal epidemic threshold value now. Maybe cases are still being identified, just not at epidemic levels or rates. I'd have thought a threshold would take more than a year and a bit to determine for a new disease with so much still unknown, but perhaps not.

Graph No. 3. The corrected cumulative curve of suspected ZVD cases
(pink circles, left-hand axis) and the change in suspected ZVD case
numbers when compared to the preceding week's total
(red bars, right-hand axis) including the updated
epidemiological week No. 28 data. Data from [1].
Click on graph to enlarge.

Graph No.4. The cumulative curve of confirmed ZIKV infections
(lilac circles, left-hand axis) and the change in confirmed ZIKV infection
numbers when compared to the preceding week's total
(purple bars, right-hand axis). Now added the reported umber of microcephaly cases
confirmed as ZIKV infected (yellow bars, right-hand axis) including the updated
epidemiological week No. 28 data. To account for adjustments
that take cases away when there is no weekly case growth, a negative
value - the y-axes now allow for negative values. Data from [1].
Click on graph to enlarge.


Sunday, 17 July 2016

Colombia Zika virus report, Epidemiological Week No. 27...

The latest epidemiological report from Colombia, which includes data on Zika virus disease (ZVD; 03JUL2016-09JUL2016), has been produced by the Colombian National Institute for Health team.[1]
NOTE: While these data were reported the past epidemiological week, they may not be from that week. See earlier post about possible reporting lag.

Graph No.1. The cumulative curve of confirmed ZVD cases
(green circles, left-hand axis) and the change in confirmed ZVD case
numbers when compared to the preceding week's total
(green bars, right-hand axis). Data from [1].
Click on graph to enlarge.

Graph No. 1 shows that 176 new laboratory confirmed cases of ZVD were reported this week. The total sits at 8,826 or 10% (the highest proportion reported to date-steady for the  past 6 reporting weeks) of all clinically suspected Zika virus (ZIKV) detections.

Graph No.2. The cumulative curve of suspected ZVD cases
(pink circles, left-hand axis) and the change in suspected ZVD case
numbers when compared to the preceding week's total
(red bars, right-hand axis). Data from [1].
Click on graph to enlarge.
Graph No. 2 shows the change in suspected cases. These are not laboratory confirmed. The suspected ZVD cases continue to rise in a linear fashion, adding 984 this week to total 89,962.

Graph No.3. The cumulative curve of confirmed ZIKV infections
(lilac circles, left-hand axis) and the change in confirmed ZIKV infection
numbers when compared to the preceding week's total
(purple bars, right-hand axis). Now added the reported umber of microcephaly cases
confirmed as ZIKV infected (yellow bars, right-hand axis). To account for adjustments
that take cases away when there is no weekly case growth, a negative
value - the y-axes now allow for negative values. Data from [1].
Click on graph to enlarge.
Graph No. 3 shows that to epidemiological week (EW) No. 27, 11,614 suspected (+77 compared to last week) and 5,882 confirmed ZIKV infections (+135) have been identified in pregnant women.

As of this report, 21 (+3 from last EW) live births have been diagnosed with congenital ZIKV syndrome (CZVS; microcephaly/central nervous system disorder), confirmed as being ZIKV positive. That represents 0.36% of all confirmed ZIKV positive mothers-the 4th EW in which this proportion has risen.

Some back of napkin calculations looking at these numbers suggest that there are 3-4 deliveries for every 1,000 ZIKV-positive pregnant women that result in a ZIKV infected baby with microcephaly. This assumes each neonate has been tested for ZIKV as [6] suggests. This figure has no clear understanding of the number of aborted or miscarried foetuses that are also occurring from ZIKV-positive pregnant women. Abortions and miscarriages will need a local baseline to understand the scope of this component of the impact of ZIKV infection.

160  other microcephaly diagnoses (up from 112 last week and the highest value to date) are now under investigation - this value has also been rising very quickly and suggests suspicious CZVS cases in Colombia are accruing faster than the pace of complete investigation can keep up with. 

It now seems very likely that we can expect those bars to keep rising steeply in the coming weeks. The line is well and truly crossed.

Graph No. 4
below focuses on just the ZIKV-positive cases and those that remain under investigation, highlighting how the investigatory total has changed each week and been trending upwards since Epidemiological Week No. 14. 
Graph No.4. The change in confirmed ZIKV infection numbers
when detected in association with a microcephaly diagnosis, compared
to the preceding week's total (yellow bars, left-hand axis). Data are from [1].
Click on graph to enlarge.
It has now been 275 days, or 9 months 1 day, since ZIKV was first confirmed in Colombia on 16th October 2015.[2] Colombia is currently carrying the next biggest load of ZVD cases, after Brazil.[3] Keep in mind that when talking about microcephaly - we have to think back in time to what insult or infection might have occurred in the first or second trimester (probably-still not definitive). The counts of virus occurring this week will have zero impact on what happened back then. Also keep in mind that Colombia may be reporting things differently from Brazil.[5,7]

Brazil first reported positive (but unconfirmed) laboratory tests for Zika virus disease on 29th April 2015. Brazil then started to report a rise in foetal anomalies (an initial 141), in the form of microcephaly on 30th October 2015. This was 184 days - or about 6 months later.[4]


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Kids are virus factories...

UPDATE #1: 06JUL2016
Ms. Mohinder Sarna and Associate Professor Lambert have just recently published some cool data from a large and very heavily sampled respiratory virus-related study.

The new report comes from a large birth cohort study entitled the Observational Research in Childhood Infectious Diseases (ORChID) study. 

ORChID is a "longitudinal community-based dynamic birth cohort study of ARI [acute respiratory infection] episodes in children from birth to 2 years of age in the subtropical city of Brisbane, Australia". The study followed babies until they were two years old, taking weekly - yes, WEEKLY! - respiratory swabs and dirty nappy swabs and then tested the heck out of them for known viruses and bacteria. 

The testing results are not part of this report so use of the term "infection" is presumptive. For this study I would have preferred ARI=acute respiratory illness; URTI-upper respiratory tract illness; LRTI-lower respiratory tract illness. But infection is being used in the sense of the clinical picture, where a long history of literature and prior knowledge informs a medical doctor's definition of these acute illnesses as most likley due to virus infection

The details of the study's intentions were previously spelt out in Observational Research in Childhood Infectious Diseases (ORChID): a dynamic birth cohort study.[1]

But the topic of this post is the latest publication from this cohort study: The Burden of Community-Managed Acute Respiratory Infections in the First 2-Years of Life.[2; unfortunately it's paywalled but abstract is visible]. 

I'm not reviewing the whole thing today, I just wanted to pick out a couple of bits and a figure because it really exemplifies how often our little darlings become ill. These are generally mild illnesses and usually without any long term problems. Of course, that doesn't make the grown-ups on the receiving of an infant with a very transmissible virus all that much happier!

A couple of interesting things:

  • this is a community rather than hospital-based study which gives us a real snapshot of what happens in normal life - interpret that with the knowledge that infants were "from families of more advantaged backgrounds, which is common in longitudinal cohort studies"
  • otherwise healthy infants in this cohort had a distinct illness every 2 months on average; fewer during the first 6 or so months but more after that 
  • sampling density is phenomenal - weekly samples. Also a good participant retention rate and 78% of expected days were captured
  • antibiotics were prescribed in 21.9% of all ARI episodes - usually for acute otitis media (middle ear infection), and more often for a LRTI than an URTI
  • when antibiotics were prescribed for upper respiratory tract illnesses (well known to be overwhelmingly viral in nature and this not targeted by an antibacterial drug), it was most often in family physician visit older male doctors
    Note: Table 4 in the paper should not have had "Antibiotics" indented-personal communication with thanks to A/Prof Lambert for clarifying
  • some minor illness may have been missed because symptoms including fever, mood change and poor feeding are hard to measure in this very young age group.
    "I say mother, I'm feeling a tad peaked this morning". Umm, no. More like "Waaah!"

Copyright © 1999-2016 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Publication: Pediatric Pulmonology; Content Title: The burden of
community-managed acute respiratory infections in the first 2-years of life;
Content authors: Mohinder Sarna,Robert S. Ware,Theo P. Sloots,
Michael D. Nissen, Keith Grimwood,Stephen B. Lambert.[2]
Reprinted with permission granted by Dr Sarna and RightsLink. License No. 3902730655132. 
Click on image to enlarge.
It will also be really interesting to see how often these children are infected but without a measurable illness resulting. 

What will the total number of infections look like in a year, in the community, among young children? More than a single infection every 2 months is my (highly biased) bet. That paper is coming, but unlike winter, it is not yet here.


I have also been a little involved with this study during my previous life, as acknowledged elsewhere.[1]

  1. Observational Research in Childhood Infectious Diseases (ORChID): a dynamic birth cohort study.
  2. The Burden of Community-Managed Acute Respiratory Infections in the First 2-Years of Life.
  1. Author title changes

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Brazil's microcephaly and CNS disorder (M&CD) monitoring: Report No. 32, 2016-Week No. 25...

These graphs are made by me using data obtained from epidemiological week (EW) number 25's Brazil Ministry of Health microcephaly and foetal and infant microcephaly and central nervous system (CNS) disorders (M&CD) report.[1]

Brazil last reported a total of 120,161 suspected Zika virus detections some weeks back. Around one thousand of these have been confirmed.[2,3]

Suspected M&CD cases...

The total number of suspected M&CD cases increased by 126 to 8,165 this EW (compared to last).

The graph above shows the number of suspected M&CD diagnoses in Brazil up to 25-June-2016. The cumulative curve (yellow dots; left hand axis) is growing, but slowly. 

This was another weekly rise (orange bars; right-hand axis). These bars are based on the difference in total suspected cases reported this EW compared to that reported in the last EW. This method may not reflect the diagnoses that occurred during the past EW (some may have come from days or weeks earlier), but that level of detail is not available in the MOH report.

Confirmed and discarded M&CD diagnoses...

M&CD cases under investigation increased by 54 to 3,061 this week.

In the graph above, we can see that 50 (blue bars; right hand axis) suspected M&CD diagnoses were discarded upon closer investigation with a current total of 3,466 removed.

The rate of these resolved diagnoses (line with blue dots, left-hand axis) seems similar to the rate of the smaller overall number of confirmed M&CD diagnoses (red dots, left-hand axis).

As of this EW, 20% of suspected M&CD diagnoses have been confirmed while 42% of suspected diagnoses have been discarded-a percentage that has been steady for 4 EWs.

The cumulative number of confirmed M&CD diagnoses does continue its climb this EW, growing by 22 new diagnoses (red bars; right-hand axis) to total 1,638.

The number of these M&CD diagnoses to be confirmed with a Zika virus infection also grows (green dots; left-hand axis) by 37 new detection (green bars; right-hand axis) to 270 this EW after rising by 7 the preceding EW.

Those confirmed Zika virus infections represent 16% (an increase for the first time about 11 weeks) of all confirmed M&CD diagnoses and 3% of all suspect diagnoses.