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African Giant Pouched Rat May Be More Effective Than Humans At Detecting TB

The Wall Street Journal examines the use of the African giant pouched rat to detect tuberculosis (TB) in lab samples. A study published online in the Pan African Medical Journal last month found the rats are “better than human lab techs at identifying TB bacteria in a dollop of mucus,” a finding that “holds promise for diagnosing tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to the newspaper. While “[t]he rats turn up many false-positive findings of TB, so the results need to be confirmed by conventional lab methods, … [a] rat takes seven minutes to work through the same number of samples as a lab technician would assess in a full day,” according to the researchers, the newspaper reports. The rats are being trained in Tanzania by the non-governmental organization Apopo, which “primarily trains African giant pouched rats to sniff land mines for de-mining activities in Mozambique, Thailand and other countries,” the Wall Street Journal notes (Robinson (9/6).

Integrating Rapid Syphilis And HIV Testing For Pregnant Women Could Reduce Maternal, Child Morbidity And Mortality

“A study conducted in Uganda and Zambia by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) found high rates of syphilis and HIV co-infection among pregnant women in both countries,” but showed that “integrating rapid syphilis screening and HIV testing for pregnant women was feasible, cost-effective, and helped to prevent transmission of syphilis and HIV from mother-to-child,” PlusNews reports.

Cell Phones Prove Useful In Tracking Disease Outbreaks

When a cholera outbreak began months after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, health workers used cell phones to help track the movements of people leaving the epicenter, allowing them “to alert medics to go where infected people might carry the disease,” according to a report published on Tuesday in PLoS Medicine, NPR’s health blog “Shots” reports. “The second wave of cases did appear exactly in the areas where most of the population was moving to … out of the cholera zone,” public health specialist Richard Garfield of Columbia University said, the blog notes. Health officials also used the phones to send health advice to Haitians over voice mail or text messaging, according to the blog (Joyce, 8/31).

Researchers Develop Potentially Less-Expensive, Faster Method For Diagnosing TB

“A potentially cheaper and faster method for diagnosing tuberculosis (TB) has been developed by researchers” at the University of Basel, Switzerland, “who hope to test it in Tanzania,” according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology last week, SciDev.Net reports. “The lack of a cheap, quick and accurate test makes it hard to control the TB epidemic, which claims millions of lives every year in developing countries,” according to the news service.

Chagas Parasite Infects 18M Worldwide, Often Without Detection

Chagas, which is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, affects 18 million people worldwide, but is particularly prevalent in Latin American countries, “where a bug called the vinchuga, sometimes known as the kissing bug (because it bites people on their faces while they sleep), transmits the disease,” the Atlantic reports. The parasite “remains dormant in peoples’ bodies for up to 30 years, until it kills them suddenly by stopping their hearts or rupturing their intestines,” the magazine writes.

FAO Warns Mutant Form Of H5N1 Bird Flu Poses Threat To Asia

“The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Monday warned about a new mutant strain of the deadly bird flu H5N1 virus in China and Vietnam, saying there could be a ‘major resurgence’ of the disease,” Agence France-Presse reports. In a statement, FAO “said it was concerned about ‘the appearance in China and Vietnam of a variant virus able to sidestep the defenses provided by existing vaccines,’ adding that the new strain was known as H5N1 – 2.3.2.1,” the news agency notes. The organization said the virus, which can be spread by wild bird migration, “poses a direct threat to Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia as well as endangering the Korean peninsula and Japan” (8/29).

TB Urine Test Developed By Indian Researchers Offers Quicker, Less Invasive Diagnosis

“The Delhi-based International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) and the Lala Ram Sarup Institute of Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases, collaborated with the National University of Singapore to develop” a urine test that “offers a less invasive diagnostic method for” tuberculosis (TB), SciDev reports. “Drug-resistant cases need an expensive, sophisticated test that takes two weeks of culturing blood samples to detect the bacterium,” but developing countries, which “account for 95 percent of new infections and 98 percent of deaths … prefer a simple test requiring minimum resources and trained personnel, and one that gives quick and easily interpreted results, the Delhi scientists observed,” according to the news agency (Padma, 8/23).

New Quick Malaria Diagnostic Test May Help Reduce Overtreatment

“Health workers often treat patients for malaria even when a test indicates a different cause of the illness,” a behavior seen across sub-Saharan Africa “that worries many health experts,” PRI’s The World reports. “Prescribing malaria medication to patients who don’t need it wastes precious resources in a country already dealing with drug shortages … leav[ing] patients untreated for the real cause of their sickness. And it can lead to drug resistance, making malaria parasites harder to eliminate when people really do contract the disease,” according to The World.

Emotions Hinder Disease Eradication

In a New York Times essay, journalist Donald McNeil writes, “To a doctor, all epidemics are objectively different … But to the mortals they mow down, all epidemics are emotionally alike — an onslaught of fear, awe, repulsion, stigma, denial, rage and blame — and doctors would be foolish to forget that.”