Australia on track to eliminate blinding trachoma
Overall prevalence of trachoma in Australia is declining as a result of strengthened control programs, according to early release findings from the 2015 Australian trachoma surveillance report issued last week by the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales. Trachoma continues to be found in remote and very remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. The infection occurs most commonly in young children and can be passed on through discharge from the eyes of an infected child, and spread through personal contact and items such as clothing. It can be easily treated with antibiotics, but early treatment is vital to prevent blindness, which occurs after repeated episodes of infection that lead to scarring of the cornea. “Early findings from 2015 tell us that trachoma in at risk communities is down by 9.4% since 2009 (currently at 4.6%), so we are really seeing the results of health promotion and treatment activities in these regions,” Professor John Kaldor, from the Kirby Institute said. “While trachoma is declining overall, the data has revealed ‘hot-spots’ that will require continued focused efforts.”

Rosacea linked to slightly increased risk of dementia
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have found an association between rosacea and dementia, in a study published in Annals of Neurology last week. The risk was highest in older patients and in patients where rosacea was diagnosed by a hospital dermatologist. Rosacea is a common chronic inflammatory skin disorder that is characterised by elevated expression of certain proteins — including matrix metalloproteinases and antimicrobial peptides — that are also involved in various neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer disease and other forms of dementia. There were 5 591 718 Danish citizens aged 18 years and over between 1997 to 2012, including 82 439 patients with rosacea. Individuals were followed until December 31, 2012, until migration, a diagnosis of dementia, or death from any cause, whichever came first. A total of 99 040 individuals developed dementia, of which 29 193 were diagnosed with Alzheimer disease. After adjustments for potential confounding factors, patients with rosacea had a 7% increased risk of dementia and a 25% increased risk of Alzheimer disease compared with individuals without rosacea. Stratified by sex, women had a 28% increased risk of Alzheimer disease and men had a 16% increased risk if they had rosacea. When results were stratified by age at study entry, the risk of Alzheimer disease was only significantly increased in individuals 60 years and over (who had a 20% increased risk). When analyses were limited to patients with a hospital dermatologist diagnosis of rosacea only, the increased risks of dementia and Alzheimer disease were 42% and 92%, respectively.

Australian and New Zealand vomiting virus traced
Most of the norovirus “gastro” cases during New Zealand’s and Australia’s 2013-2014 outbreak can be traced back to a single virus strain that emerged in Sydney in 2012, according to new research by Australian and New Zealand scientists published in PLOS Collections. Norovirus is often linked to gastro outbreaks on cruise ships and is sometimes known as the winter vomiting bug. The researchers, who published their paper as part of a special collection on the norovirus’ global trends, say their findings shed light on the virus’ evolution and could potentially aid development of a much-needed vaccine. GII.4 strains of norovirus were found to be the most prevalent strain in Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, despite their obvious geographical differences, and were also common in sporadic cases as well as outbreaks.

Delaying the spread of HIV
A single injection of HIV-targeting antibodies can protect monkeys from the simian version of the virus, SHIV, for nearly 6 months, reports a paper published online this week in Nature. The study provides a proof of concept for HIV-1 protection that could have a major impact on the transmission of the virus in high-risk populations. Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, simulated human transmission of HIV in a control group of nine macaques and determined that the median time for infection was 3 weeks. They then administered a single dose of three different antibodies to three groups of six animals and exposed them to weekly virus challenges. Virus acquisition was delayed in all groups that received antibodies, with the longest protection lasting 23 weeks. The duration of protection was directly related to the potency and half-life of the antibody. They also found that they could extend the half-life of the least potent antibody by introducing amino acid mutations. The authors suggested that a combination of these antibodies could be used to improve their overall ability to block the transmission of resistant HIV-1 strains.

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