The Guardian
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Researchers alert on rising cases of drug-resistant malaria, WHO approves first quick test for Ebola



• ‘It poses serious global threat’

* ‘Daily intake of cola drinks ‘raises cancer risk’

MALARIA may soon become untreatable, due to rising cases of drug-resistant strains, if nothing is done urgently. 

     A study published Sunday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases indicates that there is growing resistance of the malaria parasite to the World Health Organisation (WHO)-endorsed drug of choice- artemisinin.

     The researchers who found resistant malaria in samples from Myanmar say it is moving at an alarming pace across Asia. They call for a more vigorous international effort to stop it crossing to neighbouring India and turning into a serious global threat.

     According to the researchers, malaria samples collected in and around Myanmar contained evidence of resistance to the frontline drug artemisinin. The team reports how samples collected in and around Myanmar contained evidence of resistance to the frontline drug artemisinin.

    The researchers warn that if the resistant parasite spreads into neighbouring India, it would pose a serious threat to the global control and eradication of malaria.

     The warning is a reminder of what happened 50 years ago when malaria resistant to the drug chloroquine emerged in Asia, spread from Myanmar to India and then to the rest of the world, claiming millions of lives in its wake.

     Also, researchers have found that the rising cases of cancer could be due to daily intake of cola drinks. Analysis suggests that the chemical process during the manufacture of the caramel colouring used in soft drinks such as cola produces a carcinogen that could be raising the risk of cancer to above the accepted threshold of one extra case in every 100,000 people consuming the drinks.

      According to the report published yesterday by Medical News Today, the colouring is not necessary for the production of soft drinks and is included purely for esthetics. They said matching laboratory tests conducted by Consumer Reports on 11 different soft drinks, first reported last year, with an analysis of average consumption by Americans, found that one can a day could be enough to expose them to potentially cancer-causing levels of the chemical known as 4-MEI (short for 4-methylimidazole).

     The researchers said the potential carcinogen is formed during the manufacture of the familiar caramel colour that is added to many widely-consumed beverages.

    Until now, daily consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is widely linked to diabetes and obesity, but less well-known include a link to girls starting their periods earlier and being put at a higher risk of breast cancer.

       Meanwhile, a new six-part series published in The Lancet claims that progress is “unacceptably slow” in tackling the ongoing obesity epidemic and demands new ways of thinking.

    Taste preferences and brand loyalty are established during infancy, so the industry pushes highly processed foods and sweetened drinks on children from a young age.

    According to the articles, only one in four countries have been implementing a policy on healthy eating up to 2010.

      The Lancet series notes that although rates of child obesity have started to level off in certain cities and countries, no country to date has seen declining rates of obesity on a population-wide level.

    In another development, the WHO said it has approved a quick test for Ebola that will dramatically cut the time it takes to determine — with reasonable accuracy — whether someone is infected with the deadly virus.

     According to the WHO, the ReEBOV Antigen Rapid Test Kit, made by Colorado-based Corgenix, met sufficient quality, safety and performance requirements to allow it to be purchased and distributed by United Nation (U.N.) agencies and aid groups.

     WHO’s Assistant Director-General, Dr. Bruce Aylward, said: “It may definitely help the response. I wouldn’t say it’s a game-changer.” 

     Until now, Ebola tests have been mainly conducted in laboratories. These gene-based tests are more accurate but can take between 12 and 24 hours. The new test can provide results within 15 minutes by detecting an Ebola protein. In trials, it correctly identified 92 percent of the patients with Ebola and 85 percent of those not infected.

     Aylward, however, said medical personnel will still need to conduct a backup test when someone tests negative. “But (the new test) might help us get to zero faster.”

Also, male infants whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy to chemicals called phthalates may have a greater risk of future infertility.

    The research led by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, professor of Preventive Medicine and Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, United States, is titled “First Trimester Phthalate Exposure and Anogenital Distance in Newborns.” 

    The study was published online in the peer-reviewed journal Human Reproduction on February 19.

        Swan, who is also a faculty member of The Mindich Child Health and Development Institute at Mount Sinai said: “Our findings show that even at low levels, environmental exposure to these ubiquitous chemicals can adversely affect male genital development, which in turn may impact male reproductive health later in life.

     “Because most pregnant women are exposed to phthalates, our findings not only have a profound effect on public health, but on the public policies meant to protect women as well as the general population.”

        Specifically, the study found that male children of mothers who were exposed to phthalates during the first trimester of pregnancy, particularly diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) had significantly shorter anogenital distance (AGD) at birth. AGD, usually 50 to 100 percent longer in males than females, is an indicator of reproductive health. 

     Animal and human studies have recently implicated DEHP and other phthalates, a class of environmentally pervasive industrial chemicals used extensively in various consumer products, including flooring, wallpaper, lacquers and personal care products, in a spectrum of male reproductive disorders, including shortened AGD.

     AGD, the distance between the anus and the genitals, is “a sensitive marker of prenatal disruption of male genital tract development,” according to study authors. Shorter AGD in males has previously been linked to infertility and low sperm count.

         This is the largest study to date on the association between phthalates and AGD. According to study authors, “prior human studies, which have been limited by small sample size and imprecise timing of exposure and / or outcome, have reported conflicting results.” 

     Also, a new University of Michigan (U-M), United States, study published in PLOS ONE confirms what has long been suspected: highly processed foods like chocolate, pizza and French fries are among the most addictive.

     This is one of the first studies to examine specifically which foods may be implicated in “food addiction,” which has become of growing interest to scientists and consumers in light of the obesity epidemic.

       Previous studies in animals conclude that highly processed foods, or foods with added fat or refined carbohydrates (like white flour and sugar), may be capable of triggering addictive-like eating behavior. Clinical studies in humans have observed that some individuals meet the criteria for substance dependence when the substance is food.

       Despite highly processed foods generally known to be highly tasty and preferred, it is unknown whether these types of foods can elicit addiction-like responses in humans, nor is it known which specific foods produce these responses.       

       U-M assistant professor of psychology, Ashley Gearhardt, said unprocessed foods, with no added fat or refined carbohydrates like brown rice and salmon, were not associated with addictive-like eating behavior.

       U-M psychology doctoral student and the study’s lead author, Erica Schulte, said: “Individuals with symptoms of food addiction or with higher body mass indexes reported greater problems with highly processed foods, suggesting some may be particularly sensitive to the possible rewarding properties of these foods.

      “If properties of some foods are associated with addictive eating for some people, this may impact nutrition guidelines, as well as public policy initiatives such as marketing these foods to children.”


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