Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – September 15, 2015

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By: Julia Shaw, Ph.D.

photo credit: Vaccination via photopin (license)


How did Polio Pop Up in 2 Polio-Free Countries: Ukraine and Mali?

A total of three new cases of polio appeared this month in two countries that were thought to be polio-free. Two children from Ukraine, where the vaccination rate is about 50%, and one Guinean infant in Mali fell ill due to a mutated form of one of the poliovirus strains used in the oral polio vaccine (OPV). Polio is a highly contagious disease that replicates in the gut before entering the bloodstream from where the virus can then infect the nervous system, causing paralysis or death. Because the virus can spread through feces, children living in areas with poor sanitation are particularly vulnerable. Like the injected vaccine, OPV protects against systemic infection and nervous system damage; but unlike the injected vaccine, OPV also generates protective immunity in the gut, effectively preventing transmission after at least three doses. In addition, because it is easier and less expensive to administer, lower-income countries usually prefer the OPV. According to officials at the World Health Organization (WHO), the OPV has prevented over 650,000 polio cases per year over the past 10 years. However, because the vaccine is generated from a weakened form of live poliovirus, the vaccinated can shed virus in their stool for 6-8 weeks. Although very rare, it is possible for the weakened virus strain to replicate and mutate over time to a point where it again becomes virulent and able to cause paralysis as happened in these recent cases. In under-immunized communities, vaccine-derived polioviruses can circulate from person to person long enough for a reversion to virulence to occur. Ukraine is considered under-immunized due to vaccine supply and logistics as well as a significant anti-vaccine attitude among the public. Mali has infrastructure problems that complicate distribution and in Guinea, surveillance and immunization rates have dropped due to the Ebola crisis, creating potential “gaps” in the polio-immune population. Because of these vulnerabilities, a large-scale outbreak response is planned in both countries that is designed to quickly immunize as many children as possible; step-up surveillance; train health workers; trace and test contacts of the paralyzed children; and educate the community on the importance of vaccine vigilance. (Diane Cole, NPR and Michael Toole, The Conversation)

Energy Security

DOE releases new energy technology report

The Department of Energy (DOE) released their Quadrennial Technology Review (QTR) on Thursday, September 10th. Over 700 energy experts contributed to the over 400-page review that found “enormous, underappreciated, and underexploited” ways to both conserve and increase our energy supply. In comparison to its 2011 predecessor, which was the first QRT report, this version is broader in its scope and depth. A main target for energy conservation was buildings, which account for 76% of all electricity use and 40% of all energy use in the United States. Adoption of Energy Star equipment could reduce consumption by an estimated 20% and emerging technologies that promise greater energy efficiency could potentially slash energy use by 35%. The United States leads the world in the combined production of oil and gas. The report stresses the need to improve carbon dioxide capture technologies to offset the burning of these fossil fuels. While the administration’s Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, and White House science adviser, John Holdren, attributed the approximately 10% reduction in emissions since 2007 to a decrease in coal consumption and concomitant 3-fold increase in wind and 20-fold increase in solar energy generation, the QRT highlighted the potential of wind power. The report suggested that increased turbine hub height and use of advanced computer programs to predict wind farm location could help wind-power provide 35% of the country’s electricity by 2050. A modern and secure energy grid capable of tracking energy flow as well as improved batteries for computing support and energy storage were also key to the QTR’s vision. In addition, Moniz emphasized the need for new, advanced materials and technologies in order to maintain energy security and limit climate change. (Emily Underwood, ScienceInsider)

Health and Aging

Federal researchers urge older adults to aim for much lower blood pressure

A study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHBLI), a component of the National Institutes of Health, was ended prematurely after preliminary results showed a striking benefit to reducing systolic blood pressure to 120 or less. The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) enrolled adults over 50 who had a history of cardiovascular disease and systolic blood pressure of 130-180. Half of the patients were treated to keep their blood pressure at 140, which is the current clinical recommendation for adults (advocated by the NHBLI in 2013), the other half were given “intensive treatment” with an average of 3 medications to reduce blood pressure to 120. In the latter group, risk of heart attach, stroke, and heart failure dropped by one-third and risk of death dropped by 25% compared to those maintaining blood pressures at 140. But according to Randall M. Zusman, director of the division of hypertension at the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, many blood pressure medications levy significant side effects. Physicians will need to evaluate patients on an individual basis, taking into account age, health, and lifestyle before attempting to more aggressively reduce blood pressure. Aside from medication, diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques are all known to lower blood pressure. In reference to the study, Gary H. Gibbons, director of the NHBLI, stated, “This study provides potentially lifesaving information that will be useful to health care providers as they consider the best treatment options for some of their patients, particularly those over the age of 50.” (Lenny Bernstein, The Washington Post)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 15, 2015 at 9:00 am

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