Category Archives: Nick Wohlgemuth

All articles written by Nick Wohlgemuth

New Podcast! Nick Wohlgemuth: Get it, OFF! A two part episode on Lyme Disease

Nick Nina ASV

In our latest, two part episode, Nina and guest Nick Wohlgemuth discuss everything you need to know about Lyme Disease.

Part 1: Lyme Disease info that everyone should know–especially if you live in the suburbs and/or like to go hiking alot!
Direct Download/Listen Here

Part 2: Common Lyme Disease Misperceptions Debunked!
Direct Download/Listen Here

Other episode formats:
Subcribe to our iTunes channel here
Subscribe to our RSS feed here

Related Episode Links:

Battle of The GOF Groups by Nick Wohlgemuth

NW photoPreviously at Public Health United, we have talked about gain-of-function research and its importance, most notably in the recent podcast with Dr. Ron Fouchier. Briefly, gain-of-function research is any research done with the purpose of giving pathogens new traits or abilities. These functions typically contribute to the pathogenicity or spread of the virus in an attempt to understand how these pathogens may acquire such traits naturally. The experiments are done under extremely tight biosafety conditions and are critical for understanding the emergence of deadly pandemics.

However, some of the scientists performing such work have provided insufficient justification or have otherwise been ineffective at communicating the safety conditions under which this work is done or the importance of the findings (this has been largely remedied as the dialog has progressed). This defective communication has led to rift in the scientific and public health communities. The opponents of recent gain-of-function work have formed the Cambridge Working Group and are advocating moratoriums against such experiments. An antithetical group that supports the research, Scientists for Science, has formed and released their own statement. Fortunately, both sides are in favor of continued discourse and conversations on the subject and support a conference to discuss it. This issue is far from over, but hopefully improved communication can help the two sides see eye-to-eye and allow the science to proceed forward.

Viruses gone viral: communication issues in virology research

How can we talk to the public about viruses when it’s difficult to even define what they are? Guest virology experts Drs. Gary Ketner (Johns Hopkins School of Public Health) and Barry Margulies (Towson University) discuss the perils of communicating virus research to the media, the worst virus miscommunication they’ve ever seen, and how we can make virology more accessible to the public.

Show links:
Listen to the podcast HERE or subscribe to PHU on iTunes here.

Learn the basics about viruses (great for non-scientists too) at Virology 101.

Quick and easy read on Barry’s research: “Barry Margulies and co-workers are seeking innovative ways to attack cold sores”

This Week In Virology website

Articles about the Fouchier debate:
“Origin of H5N1 Storm” by Vincent Racaniello, Read this first if you’d like to know the facts!
“Seeing Terror Risk, US Asks Journals to Cut Flu Study Facts” by Denise Grady. Balanced article for general public.
An engineered doomsday” by (author not provided). Scare-mongering at its best. Check out the comments for a laugh!
Five easy mutations to make bid flu a lethal pandemic” by Debora MacKenzie. She’s got all the facts wrong and uses scare-mongering to draw readers in.

Public Health and Diseases of Food

For those of you that took our advice and have been looking at ProMED-mail for a good source of science/disease outbreak news (or for those who were already doing so), you may be noticing a lot of outbreaks for animal and plant diseases.

One Health, which Stephanie Porter brought to our attention in the first News Analysis episode, figures prominently into this. Many of the diseases that infect humans are zoonoses (disease transmitted from animals to humans or from humans to animals). Wild and domestic animals provide a possible source for new human diseases (think SARS and avian influenza), and to be truly healthy as people, we have to be mindful not to harm the health of animals.

A more important impact that animal and plant diseases have is their role in agriculture. Most food we consume is produced in monoculture (the growing or raising of a single crop or animal species in agriculture). For example, the corn we consume is made up of a few different strains of genetically identical organisms. This means that they susceptible to the same infectious diseases. A single germ can potentially wipeout a large area of corn monoculture.

For example, there was a recent ProMED-mail post about Schmallenberg virus and its recent reemergence in parts of Europe. The virus is a disease of ruminants, including cows, sheep, and goats, and it is relatively mild in nature except that it causes congenital defects in animals born to infected mothers. This can have devastating consequences on future food reserves.

So while human diseases and outbreaks are undoubtedly important to our health, animals and plant infections that may either spread to humans as zoonoses or wipeout our food sources are also important to the health and wellbeing of humans.

-Nick Wohlgemuth

Functionally Cured: HIV cleared from child after receiving early drug therapy – by Nick Wohlgemuth

HIV causes a chronic viral infection, meaning that our bodies aren’t able to get rid of the virus like with cold or “flu” viruses. Thankfully for HIV patients, antiretroviral therapy is usually able to control viral replication, and patients are able to live long, healthy lives and drastically delay the onset of AIDS. However, antiretrovirals have bad side effects, and virus levels usually rise quickly once treatment is stopped.

In March, scientists presented a report of an infant that has been functionally cured of HIV. What the heck does that mean?

To be functionally cured of HIV, an individual has to have previously had a confirmed infection with the virus. Then, usually through the use of antiretroviral therapy, the virus is driven to such low levels that when the treatment is no longer administered, the virus levels don’t increase.

In this case, the baby was born to a mother with HIV and given antiretroviral therapy 30 hours after birth. Scientists confirmed that the child had virus in her blood and continued to monitor the virus levels. Soon, they couldn’t detect virus by using the normal clinical detection methods. The baby was taken off antiretroviral therapy when she was 18 months old, and virus levels remained undetectable up to the time of the report when she was 26 months old.

When scientists look with more sensitive methods, they can still detect virus in the child’s body, but the normal clinical screens are all negative. The child remains symptom free.

This is the first time there was been a well-documented case of a child being functionally cured of HIV. This case stresses the importance of starting antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible. The broader implications are limited at this time, but this seems to prove, in principle, that if we are able to get good antiretroviral drugs to infected individuals soon enough, then we might be able to functionally cure many more people with HIV.

-Nick Wohlgemuth

Conference Abstract

PHU News Analysis 1: Sources of News, H7N9, and West Nile Virus

News Analysis Episode 1 is now available!

Right click to download or click to stream

Nick, Nina, and guest Stephanie Porter discuss where they go for sources of information about science and health, the recent outbreak of avian influenza H7N9, West Nile Virus, and the One Health Initiative.

Links for the Episode:

H7N9 ProMED Mail Story

Steve’s H7N9 Blog Post

ProMED Mail

This Week in Virology

Virology Blog

Slate’s Political Gabfest

Science Friday

Ira Flatow

Center for a Livable Future

More information about the infant functionally cured of HIV

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