mitali-adlakha

Mitali Adlakha

Is a contributor to The Almost Doctor’s Channel.

Climate Change and the Spread of Infectious Diseases

Global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice, decreased snow cover, ocean acidification and rise in sea levels. Do these terms sound familiar? These terms are indeed stark reminders of how human beings continue to damage the planet. Climate change is one of the most severe threats to human health and well-being. While the scientific community has made tremendous progress in eradicating many diseases, not a lot of research has been put towards the perplexing topic of climate change and the spread of infectious diseases. Long before the role of infectious agents was discovered, humans knew that climatic conditions affect epidemic diseases. Roman aristocrats spent their summers in hill resorts to avoid Malaria. South Asians preferred curried foods in summers to avoid diarrhea. Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather conditions and patterns of extreme weather events. Appropriate climate and weather conditions are necessary for the survival, reproduction, distribution and transmission of disease pathogens. Thus, long-term climate change and weather shifts tend to favor the spread of several infectious diseases and extreme weather conditions might create opportunities for newer outbreaks or outbreaks at non-traditional places. It has been known for a while now that warming temperatures can help certain diseases. Malaria, which kills an estimated 650,000 people a year, thrives in the hot and humid areas where the Anopheles mosquito can live. The link between malaria and extreme climatic events has...

Reflecting on Vaccines After World Immunization Week

Vaccines, heralded as one of the greatest medical breakthrough of the modern era save millions of lives each year. Despite the magnificent success of vaccinations against formerly fearsome diseases, fraudulent anti-vaccine claims thrive today. In the spirit of World Immunization Week 2018, I decided to dive into the scientific data that unambiguously demonstrates how effective vaccines are at preventing the most devastating diseases. Vaccines work on the simple principle of preventing the disease, they help our body’s defense system (immune system) to fight infections effectively and at a much faster rate. When we get a vaccine, we are exposed to small amounts of weakened or dead pathogens, which doesn’t make us sick but all it does is spark our immune system. Once the immune system is sparked it remembers the pathogen, and on our next exposure to the pathogen, our body is ready to fight off the pathogen. This protection that we develop against a disease is defined as immunity, which in many cases lasts for a lifetime. The story of vaccines begins with smallpox. In the 20th century, smallpox killed an estimated 300 million people, making it one of the deadliest diseases known to humankind. Before doctors knew how to prevent this highly infectious disease from spreading, Dr. Edward Jenner carried out one of the most pivotal experiments in the history of medicine that led to the discovery of...

Causing Seasonal Misery: The “Flu” and the “Flu-like” Virus

It’s almost the middle of winter and you start feeling sick. Runny nose, cough, sore throat, breathing problems, fever, headache, and diarrhea- all these dreaded symptoms sound familiar to you? And most certainly you attribute this seasonal misery to “common cold” or the flu. Most people use the terms common cold and flu interchangeably, however, the flu is very different from common cold. While a “common cold” can be caused by more than 200 different viruses, the “flu” is an abbreviation for influenza. This respiratory virus is dreaded for its ability to spread rapidly through communities. When someone with the influenza coughs or sneezes, the influenza virus is expelled into the air, and anyone who inhales it can become infected. The virus can also be spread if someone touches a contaminated hard surface such as a door handle and then places their hand on their mouth or nose. Each year millions of people suffer from flu symptoms to varying degrees of illness. For instance, children, old people, and people with weakened immune systems are more prone to the illness. Other secondary bacterial infections may follow after the flu. This season has been a particularly tough flu season. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention (C.D.C) reports1 (as of February 17, 2018) for flu activity during the year 2017-2018, 161,129 positive tests were performed by clinical laboratories and 35,544...

Your Microbial Self: What Does Your Gut Tell You?

When most people think of bacteria within your body, what comes to their mind are these nasty unfriendly creatures that cause certain diseases and make them sick. However, that is true only to a certain extent and does not apply to all species of bacteria. Research has actually determined that there are trillions of beneficial bacteria inside our body that help us in performing life-sustaining functions at all times. These good bacteria indeed make up our internal ecosystem that we call the ‘microbiome’. The microbiome inhabits everything from our skin and genitals, to our mouths and eyes, and a vast majority of them reside in our intestines and are known as our ‘gut microbiota’. The total number of genes represented by our microbiome likely exceeds the number of our human genes by at least two orders of magnitude! Appropriately so, we are but an amalgamation of our human selves and our ‘microbial selves’. These diverse organisms in our microbiome govern nearly every function in the human body. Traditionally, it was thought that the gut microbiota effects are limited to the host’s digestive tract but more recent research has proven that the effects of the microbiome on our health are far-reaching, hence making it vital for our survival. You can think of the microbiome as an intricate web that connects to virtually all processes in our body. The current scientific...