Thursday, May 31, 2007

A lack of courtesy

I'm not a lawyer (unlike the man involved), so I can't say it's illegal to fly commercially while knowing you have TB. It does show a lack of courtesy, though.

Every article I've seen mentions that the man knew he had TB when he left on his honeymoon. He didn't know it was XDR until he was already gone. Knowing that he had XDR-TB, he avoided federal officials who were attempting to get him safely home in order to sneak into the country himself.

What does it take to knowingly expose not only a large number of strangers, but also your new wife, to TB? How does a lawyer justify trying to hide his movements from government agents? I'm guessing a) he can afford to have the good stuff (like a long European honeymoon with at least 5 flights), so he's not used to being 'thwarted' or controlled in any way; b) he hasn't been taught to think about others if that will make life less than easy for him; c) he either never knew or has forgotten any basic health protocols (I wonder if he always washes his hands). In other words, he's self-centered and independent -- probably from my generation (Gen-X). Selfish.

Yes, the officials could have moved faster -- but I can't imagine how much louder the press would be if that had happened. Remember, he's a lawyer. You have to be very very cautious about how you treat lawyers. Many of them throw their figurative weight around to get their own way (not all, but you get conditioned; based on his behavior, I think Mr. TB would have been dangerous if detained without media outcry for it). I'm not really going to fault them. I fault him. He had no courtesy.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Book Review: A Journal of the Plague Year

Okay, this is fiction. It doesn't feel like it, but it is. Really. Defoe was only a child during the plague. These are not his memoirs.

Still, he captures a few problems that will be experienced in such situations:
  • if quarantine is forced on a population, they will do what they can to get out of it
  • people will panic too much and too soon, but they will also recover from their fear too soon
  • the poor suffer the most from epidemics because they have to work to eat
Just for the understanding of those points, A Journal of the Plague Year would be worthwhile. I find it amusing reading, too, but I'm an epidemiologist -- I like the lists of numbers of infections, the exact representations of deaths, the debate on the best control measures. I love the consideration (in the 18th century!) of diagnostic bias and its effect on understandings of the mortality bills. Really, if you like epi, you should read this book.

If you don't like epi, and you don't like old non-fiction (this doesn't read like fiction, I'm serious), then you won't enjoy this. It's a dry account of 'what happened' during the great London plague.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Regulations backlog

In the spirit of catching up, three articles to discuss about regulatory issues:

1) Well, Russia wants to join WTO, does it? And will slowly decrease tariffs . . . wait, aren't we supposed to NOT be protectionists in the WTO?
Russia to join WTO
By Tom Johnston on 4/9/2007 for
Russia will become a full-fledged member of the World Trade Organization by year's end, or by the beginning of 2008 at the latest, an official said Monday at the conference "Russia-WTO: Hopes and Strategic Opportunities" in Moscow.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said it's not a matter of when, but how. In other words, the negotiation of terms on which Russia would join WTO is the top priority.

Gref said the average weighted rate of customs duties on goods and services would be reduced from 12.9 percent to 11.5 percent toward the conclusion of the transitional period. For some goods, the transitional period will be as long as seven years.

Additionally, Gref said Russia would reserve the right to satisfactory quotas on beef, pork and poultry until 2009. The country would then begin negotiations on a future quota calculation formula.

Overall, the average weighted rate of customs duties on farm produce will be reduced from 22.6 percent to 18 percent over a period of three to five years, he said.

"The degree of protection will not worsen for any group of goods," Gref said.
2) And now Australia joins the game. More incredibly expensive cloned animals to . . . uh . . . what is it we're doing with them, now? We're not eating them yet (and they cost too much to eat, anyways). I think this is more in the same line as above -- we want to do it because the other kids all did it!

Aussies deliver cloned beef cow
By Tom Johnston on 4/17/2007 for
Scientists on Tuesday announced they cloned a beef cow, the first of its kind in Australia.

Cloning "Mini," a Brahman cattle, cost her central Queensland-based owners about $30,000, media reports indicated.

Dr. Richard Fry of Clone International explained that the process is difficult, with a success rate of about 10 percent.

"There are problems with the genetics because if we don't completely rub off the memory of the cell that we've used, then you get the incorrect expression of genes," he told reporters. "You don't get embryo forming, and they won't result in pregnancy."

Chris Fenech of the Fenech Brahman Cattle company says "Mini" was cloned from one of his family's prized stud bulls.
3) No, we don't eat horses here. Not wild horses. Not domestic horses. That's cruel! Now go get me my burger and chicken fries! And pick up some Lamb and Rice dog food while you're out.
Wild horses run free: House votes to ban their sale for commercial processing
By Ann Bagel Storck on 4/27/2007 for
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted to prevent the sale of free-roaming wild horses and burros for slaughter.

A 1971 law originally prevented the Bureau of Land Management from selling the animals for commercial processing, but in 2004, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) inserted a measure in a spending bill allowing their sale.

About 29,000 wild horses and burros were roaming on public lands as of February, according to BLM, which wants the number at about 27,000 to 28,000.

The House voted last year and in 2005 to end the sale of the animals, but the Senate never took up the issue.

In related news, on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that would outlaw horse slaughter across the nation.

Just too funny . . .

Ok, this is dogs and not in my line but (apologies to Sallie), pugs need a recall. Don't buy them. Please.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Higher education follows primary?

I was interested by this article because I've visited Cheikh Anta Diop. In fact, I have a friend who is a professor there. They aren't kidding -- the vet school (one of the few, if not the only, in W. Africa) is in good shape for them, but there isn't much there. Their entire lab space is about the size of the gross anatomy labs at any school here. They don't have a clinic to practice in. It's not where you'd want to be training the front line against avian influenza, rinderpest, and other diseases that could devastate our economies if they surged.

Why should we care? Besides the large proportion of grad students coming into this country from Africa (who need to know things they might not learn there), we benefit from their improved education by not having to pay Western researchers to do the needed field trials for African problems. They work cheaper even when they have the education, so we can put more development money into the infrastructure and project funds, less into the staff salaries.

I've been given this incredible blessing of attending good colleges and universities. One day, I may even leave them; for now, I'd just like to share that opportunity with people who've worked much harder to get much less.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Makes me feel guilty for not practicing

It's starting to become news outside of the AVMA:
Farm animal vet shortage prompts fears of disease outbreaks
By Ann Bagel Storck on 5/1/2007 for
Surveys by the American Veterinary Medical Association indicate a shortage of farm animal veterinarians, which the organization fears could lead to disease outbreaks.
Although AVMA estimates the shortage at only 4 percent, that doesn't necessarily mean the situation isn't critical. "It's not like the other 96 percent can pick up the slack," Dr. Lyle Vogel, director of AVMA's animal welfare division, told the Associated Press. "Because of the distances and workload of the remaining veterinarians, they just can't fill in that shortage."

AVMA's findings echo those of another study conducted last year. (See Vet shortage could threaten food security,, June 2, 2006.) The shortage could be due to a large number of veterinary school graduates choosing to pursue small animal medicine with its perceived regular hours and better pay.

In response to the shortage, the National Academy of Sciences in March started an 18-month study to find gaps in veterinary care and look for ways to coordinate resources to fill them. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also has launched a pilot program that admits one student from each of the nation's 28 veterinary schools to a course focused on handling emergency disease outbreaks.
I disagree with their explanation for the reason, though. Although some may choose to switch to small animal for the money, it's more likely for the ability to not get beat up on the job -- large animal vets don't have an easy life, physically. The biggest reason, though, is that relatively more people are applying to vet school with NO large animal experience and no desire to work in rural areas with food animals. Therefore, we're admitting more small animal-minded people and they're not being convinced to change their plans. Why would they be? The curriculum in vet school is becoming more focused on the interests of the majority, which means the food animal subjects getting squeezed out for topics like oncology (a required course and rotation at Cornell now, but happily not until I left).

What do we do about it? Recruit. Maintain. Encourage. Fund. The program that APHIS is referring to does not select for food animal interest, but general interest, and I'm sure plenty of the attendees are not food animal-minded. How about a program that provides a good scholarship to one or two farm animal students at each vet school every year? That might be a little more efficacious. Money does talk.

What's the WHO been doing?

While I've been slaving away at my thesis, the WHO has done some interesting things with regards to avian influenza (bird flu, for those of you relying on the general news media). First, promising vaccine to low-income countries:
WHO pledges AI vaccine stockpile for poor countries
By Tom Johnston on 4/9/2007 for

Following calls from developing nations to more fairly distribute avian influenza vaccines, the World Health Organization said it will establish a global stockpile of vaccines for poor countries.

WHO director general Margaret Chan, who recently visited Indonesia, said the vaccine reserve would be critical for helping developing countries battle bird flu, the Jakarta Post reported.

Chan met with Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently to discuss worldwide vaccine production, some of which depends on virus sample supply from Indonesia.

"We will look at how to develop global stockpiles of vaccines, particularly for developing countries," Chan said, noting that WHO would gather resources from affluent countries, donors and large pharmaceutical companies.

Chan also noted that developing nations will have to fully cooperate in the world's fight against avian influenza. "The sharing of information on the virus is a requirement for all countries under an international health regulation which will come into effect June 15," she said.
I didn't know we had a good vaccine developed yet, but if we do . . . of course, they should be distributed to where they'll be the most efficacious -- wherever the disease occurs! Why not, if we're doing a centralized production, do a centralized distribution based on actual risk analyses? Oh, right, that would be using science to make decisions. We generally prefer economics or politics, which leads me to the second issue:

WHO presses China for human AI samples
By Alicia Karapetian on 4/18/2007 for

China has not shared human samples of highly pathogenic avian influenza in a year, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

WHO officials contend that the lack of access to samples could hinder efforts to combat the disease, the Associated Press reported.

"Since [samples were last shared] there have been five H5N1 cases in China, plus a Beijing 2003 case reported in 2006," WHO Spokesman Joanna Brent told AP.

WHO hopes to receive two samples from the five recent victims in addition to the 2003 case.
They share that there are 5 cases, plus an old one they didn't mention, but they refuse to share the samples. Who actually believes there were only 5 cases? And that the samples of any or all of the cases will be shared just by asking? Sometimes, though, I think China obfuscates for the sake of having a secret. They don't lose anything by sharing samples except their scientists having sole access to a set of samples that probably aren't special enough to give them an edge in publishing etc. By sharing those samples, they would get the free benefit of the WHO's expertise. Not even free -- they've already paid for it by supporting the WHO as a member nation!

You probably haven't read anything in the news about H5N1 in a while. It's not gone. It's just not going anywhere.

I've been away a while . . .

Yes, I've been just a bit busy with my thesis. I'll try to catch up; many news stories I've meant to share and discuss.