The Health News – 12 June 2015


• South Korea’s health ministry says two more people have died in the country’s outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), bringing the number of fatalities to nine.

• A Congolese-Belgian woman has become the first in the world to give birth to a healthy child after doctors restored her fertility by transplanting ovarian tissue that was removed and frozen when she was a child.

• The number of patients consulting with their doctors online in south-western Queensland has tripled in just three months.

News on Health Professional Radio.  Today is the 12th June 2015. Read by Rebecca Foster.

A woman has tested negative for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in a Hong Kong hospital, authorities say, as an outbreak in South Korea triggers public alarm elsewhere in Asia.

The unidentified woman had sought treatment at a clinic near the Tsing Yi rail station for a runny nose and fever after returning from South Korea.

The area around the clinic was cordoned off and health officials in protective gear worked to clean the site.

Hong Kong officials said that the city had no confirmed cases of MERS, but two test results were still pending.

“Of the 33 suspected cases of MERS that we received yesterday [Wednesday] up to noon, 31 have tested negative,” said Leung Ting-hung, controller for the centre of health protection, including the Tsing Yi case.

Local media reported that further cases were being tested for the virus.

Research involving a former brain-eating tribe from Papua New Guinea is helping scientists better understand so-called prion conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

People of the Fore tribe, studied by scientists from Britain and PNG, have developed genetic resistance to a mad cow-like disease called kuru (a prion condition), which was spread mostly by the now abandoned ritual of eating relatives’ brains at funerals.

Experts say the cannibalistic practice led to a major epidemic of kuru prion disease among the Fore people, which at its height in the late 1950s caused the death of up to 2 per cent of the population each year.

In findings published in the scientific journal Nature, the researchers said they had identified the specific prion resistance gene — and found that it also protects against all other forms of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

“This is a striking example of Darwinian evolution in humans, the epidemic of prion disease selecting a single genetic change that provided complete protection against an invariably fatal dementia,” said John Collinge of the Institute of Neurology’s prion unit at University College London, which co-led the work.

Prions are infectious agents that cause often fatal brain diseases such as CJD in humans, scrapie in sheep and BSE (… or mad cow disease) in cattle.

They are also a rare but important cause of dementia, and scientists say it is now recognised that the process involved in these diseases — in which prion proteins change shape and stick together to form polymers that damage the brain — is also what happens in common dementias such as Alzheimer’s, and in Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Mr Collinge said his team was now conducting more studies to understand the molecular basis of this effect, hoping to find clues on the seeds of other misshapen proteins that develop in the brain and cause the common forms of dementia.

Worldwide, about 47.5 million people have dementia and there are 7.7 million new cases every year, according to the World Health Organisation.

The total number of cases is projected to reach 75.6 million in 2030 and to almost triple by 2050 to 135.5 million.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission wants residents in Wodonga and Shepparton, in north-east Victoria, to have their say on the legalisation of medicinal cannabis.

The commission will hold public forums next Monday in Wodonga and in Shepparton on Tuesday as the Victorian Government moves to legalise the drug in “exceptional circumstances”.

Key questions to be answered include how the scheme would be regulated.

Commission chairman Phillip Cummins said public input was critical.

“It’s important because the whole issue of the use of drugs like cannabis is a very important social issue, it affects people’s lives directly, people have quite strong views, so the public I think has an important right to be heard on these important social issues,” he said.

He said the forums would address a range of questions.

“In what circumstances and for what medical conditions should people be allowed to [use] medicinal cannabis?” he said.

“What should be the role of doctors and other health professionals and pharmacists in the scheme if there is as scheme by Parliament, and how should the scheme be regulated?”

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