As we settle into another weekly issue of The Filtrate, we want to remind you that when the news breaks, it's not our fault.
Chinese-American scientists at several US universities have found themselves on the wrong end of what could be seen as a targeted purge. While Federal and academic officials claim this is just an effort to weed out conflicts of interest, stories like this and this suggest there's more to it than that.
On a more cheerful topic, let's talk about dengue fever. These folks developed a cool technique for forecasting dengue outbreak risk based on weather data. The more it rains, the more outdoor containers and puddles fill up with water, leading to more mosquito breeding and more disease transmission. The same approach would probably work for a lot of other vector-borne diseases too. It could help public health officials target scarce resources toward vector control when it's likely to have the biggest impact.
Another virus affected by the weather is influenza, which reaches a predictable peak each winter in temperate climates before tapering off in the spring. But nobody knows why. In a new paper, researchers report that mice housed in a low-humidity environment had worse mucosal immune function and were more susceptible to influenza virus infection than control animals breathing more humid air. It's not the first time people have proposed a link between flu and low humidity, but it's the most rigorous test I've seen of that hypothesis so far.
This week saw another update from the World Health Organization's polio eradication campaign, which has been running almost as long as the CIA's infamous campaign to eradicate Fidel Castro. To be fair, the polio campaign has actually had some success in minimizing the spread of the disease, but the flawed effort continues to burn cash and manpower trying to get rid of the last few pockets of it.
If it's that hard to wipe out vaccine-preventable viral diseases in poor countries, what should we do about bacterial, fungal, and protozoan diseases? Some field trials have shown success from mass drug administration, which is exactly what it sounds like: give everyone in an area a dose of antibiotics, regardless of whether they're sick. This works (for certain definitions of "works"), but raises some complicated issues, like how to balance the benefit of decreased disease burden against the risk of antibiotic resistance.