Friday, December 8, 2006

Malaria, HIV Interact To Speed Spread of Both

Malaria may be helping to spread the AIDS virus across Africa, the continent hardest hit by the incurable disease, scientists said yesterday.

The way the two diseases interact greatly expands the prevalence of both among people in sub-Saharan Africa, the team reported in a study in the journal Science.

Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite, greatly boosts viral load -- the amount of human immunodeficiency virus in the blood -- of infected people, making them more likely to infect a sex partner with HIV, they said.

"Higher viral load causes more HIV transmission, and malaria causes high HIV viral load," said lead author Laith Abu-Raddad of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Abu-Raddad estimated that malaria has helped HIV infect hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the same time, HIV fuels malaria's spread because HIV-infected people are more susceptible to malaria as a result of HIV ravaging the immune system, the body's natural defenses, the researchers said.

Ebola Rampant Among West African Gorillas

The Ebola virus may have killed more than 5,000 gorillas in West Africa -- enough to send them into extinction if people continue to hunt them, too, researchers said yesterday.

The virus is spreading from one group of the endangered animals to another, the international team reported in the journal Science. It appears to be spreading among them faster than it is among humans.

"The Zaire strain of Ebola virus killed about 5,000 gorillas in our study area alone," wrote primatologist Magdalena Bermejo of the University of Barcelona and colleagues.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever is one of the most virulent viruses known, killing 50 to 90 percent of victims. The World Health Organization says that it killed 1,200 people infected between its discovery in 1976 and 2004.

The virus is transmitted by direct contact with blood, organs or other bodily fluids. There is no cure or good treatment.

It was not clear whether the gorillas were infecting one another, or being repeatedly infected and reinfected by another species of animal, perhaps a bat.

Improper Statin Use Raises Heart Attack Risk

Thousands of people taking statin drugs to lower cholesterol levels are having preventable heart attacks because they are not complying with their prescriptions, a study in the European Heart Journal found.

More than half of the 60,000 patients whose records were studied over 14 years stopped taking statins within two years, researchers at the Utrecht, Netherlands-based Pharmo Institute found. More than a third, or almost 21,000, continued to take the drug at high or intermediate doses.

Among patients who continued to take their medicine, hospital admissions for heart attacks fell by 30 percent compared with those that did not keep taking the drug. Those taking a high or intermediate dose cut their chance of heart attacks by 40 percent, while those on a lower dose reduced their risk by 20 percent.

"Our observational study supports robust cholesterol lowering," Fernie Penning-van Beest wrote. "But drugs are only really effective if they are used properly and persistently."

-- From News Services

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