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NationalGeographic.com/news, February 17, 2009, by Matt Kaplan — Why the flu strikes hard during the winter but nearly vanishes in the summer has baffled epidemiologists for decades.

Now a new study may have the answer: Influenza germs last longer and pass from person to person more effectively in lower absolute humidity—i.e., when it’s cold outside and the air is dryer.

Absolute humidity is a measurement of the total amount of water vapor in the air at a given temperature. Relative humidity, a percentage, is the ratio between the water vapor present and the air’s saturation point, a figure that changes with the temperature.

Earlier studies of humidity and the flu had focused on relative humidity and found no link, said lead author Jeffrey Shaman at Oregon State University, whose findings appear in the February 10, 2009 journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

After reanalyzing these past studies, which also contained data on absolute humidity, Shaman’s team found a much more powerful connection.

“Absolute humidity conditions explain most of these changes,” Shaman said.

The researchers do not know exactly what it is about low absolute humidity that the flu virus likes. But they suggest that absolute humidity levels be raised in buildings such as hospitals and medical clinics where the disease most often spreads.

“This gets us a big step closer to one type of mechanism” for how the flu spreads, said epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch of Harvard University.

“One really key question is how much influenza is transmitted in tropical locations”—places with high absolute humidity year-round—”and how this compares to temperate parts of the world,” he said.

“A satisfactory explanation would not only explain the seasonal cycles in temperate areas, but also the much less seasonal, but still substantial, burden of influenza that seems to be present in the tropics

3,000 contracted the disease last year, raising fears it is making an unwelcome return

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Ed Gyde, 40 caught the infection from his three year old son, James, and was eventually in hospital being administered with intravenous antibiotics, oxygen, and asthma inhalers

The Independent.co.uk, February 16, 2009, by Jeremy Laurance and Teri Pengilley — Ed Gyde, 40 caught the infection from his three year old son, James, and was eventually in hospital being administered with intravenous antibiotics, oxygen, and asthma inhalers

Scarlet Fever, the disease which killed thousands during the 19th century, is making a comeback, public health specialists have warned.

Almost 3,000 cases of the disease were recorded in 2008 in England and Wales, the highest number for a decade, and there are fears its virulence may be increasing. The Health Protection Agency has launched a program of “enhanced surveillance” to monitor infections and spot any unusual features that could signal a change in the disease.

Winter is the peak season for scarlet fever but the increase seen in the past two months is “above that seasonally expected”, according to the HPA. Alerts have been issued to regional health protection staff and consultant microbiologists. A letter has also been prepared for circulation to hospital emergency wards and GP surgeries warning them to be alert.

Scarlet fever, also known as Scarletina, is caused by a bacterium, Group A Streptococcus, which is the most common cause of bacterial sore throat (“strep throat”). Symptoms of scarlet fever usually include a sore throat, fever and swollen glands.

Most cases are easily treated with antibiotics. In rare cases the disease can lead to pneumonia, throat abscess, sinusitis and meningitis.

In severe cases, the bacteria may become invasive, causing necrotizing fasciitis (the “flesh eating” bug), septicemia and toxic shock syndrome. An increase in cases of invasive strep A is of particular concern because it can be deadly, killing up to one in four of those diagnosed. The risk is highest in those already seriously ill with reduced immunity, but also depends on the type of infection and the strain.

Scarlet fever caused devastating epidemics through the 19th and early 20th centuries, and killed almost5 per cent of those infected in 1914.

Sufferers were isolated for weeks and their clothes and bedding burnt to prevent contagion. Over the past century, the number of cases and virulence of the infection has declined for reasons not fully understood.

Experts say the disease follows a cycle, rising and falling roughly every four years and that is mirrored by a rise and fall of the more deadly invasive variant. Cases have hovered between 1,600 and 2,500 over the past decade but rose to 2,913 last year. Theresa Lamagni and colleagues from the HPA say in the journal Eurosurveillance: “It is possible the significant influenza activity this winter may be contributing by increasing transmission … and/or rendering individuals with influenza more susceptible …”

The disease may also be becoming more severe. The authors note that no unusual strains have been identified but the number of infectious caused by one of the more dangerous strains is suspected to have risen.

Case Study: I could not breathe …’

*Ed Gyde, 40, spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia after he caught scarlet fever earlier this year. The chief executive of Audience PR, a communications consultancy, caught the infection from his three-year-old son, James, and was eventually in hospital being administered with intravenous antibiotics, oxygen, and asthma inhalers.

“It was a horrendous experience. My skin was like sandpaper. It was as if my body had been taken over,” he said.

The disease struck the family after their return from a holiday. James escaped with a mild infection, but his father was not so lucky. “For five or six days I was unable to sleep with the cough and fever. Then my skin peeled off as if I had very bad sunburn … I was coughing, thirsty and weak and couldn’t breathe.”

(Business Wire) February 16, 2009, Cord Blood Registry (CBR), the global leader in the collection and preservation of newborn stem cells from umbilical cord blood, announced today that in the fourth quarter ended December 31, 2008, the company exceeded $100 million in annual revenue – an increase of 28 percent. In addition, the company surpassed 250,000 total cord blood units in storage, which represents a 26 percent growth rate for 2008.

The company also announced that it released its 100th cord blood unit for medical use, a milestone attesting to the rapidly increasing use of a child’s own newborn stem cells (also called autologous use) for medical therapies to help repair damaged tissue and regenerate healthy cells. In 2008, the company released one cord blood unit every other week for medical use. To date in 2009, the company has released more than two units per week for medical use. The majority of units released – more than 80 percent – have been used to treat the child from whom they were collected.

Umbilical cord blood is a rich and diverse source of newborn stem cells that can be collected without ethical concerns in a ten minute window immediately after birth. This population of stem cells is a preferred source for clinical research in regenerative medicine because these cells have demonstrated embryonic-like capabilities to proliferate and develop into all of the major cell types in the body.

“This is an extremely significant time in CBR’s history because of the crucial role we’re playing to help advance medical research with newborn stem cells for injuries and other serious health conditions in children that have no cure today,” said Tom Moore, chief executive officer of CBR. “We have released more cord blood units for autologous use in regenerative medicine than all other cord blood banks combined; and in the next 12 months, we will release more units for medical use than we have released in the previous 12 years.”

Increasingly, researchers are using an individual’s own stem cells to explore new regenerative therapies because autologous stem cell therapy avoids medical complications and safety concerns that may develop with stem cells donated or created from another source. The key to initiating new trials is identifying children who have a specific condition and who have access to their own newborn stem cells.

“CBR is in a unique position to help provide a patient cohort to launch new studies because of our size – the number of CBR clients is equivalent to the population of a small city,” said Moore. “The same incidence of injuries, accidents and conditions that happens to children in the general population, happens to the more than a quarter of a million children whose cord blood is stored in our facility. However, the children whose cord blood is already banked with us have the opportunity to be enrolled in new studies because they have access to their newborn stem cells.”

In a city whose population equals the number of cord blood units stored at CBR, statistics calculated from Center of Disease Control (CDC) data would predict that every 1 in 50 children by age 6 will develop or experience a condition that has no cure today and is currently being researched for treatment with newborn stem cells. This includes traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, stroke, type 1 diabetes, heart disorders and hearing loss.

The CBR Center for Regenerative Medicine to Help Initiate Hearing Loss Study

Cord Blood Registry also announced today that it is in discussions with three leading medical institutions to launch a clinical study that will evaluate the use of a child’s own newborn stem cells to treat hearing loss caused by an accident or severe illness.

The research will be facilitated and coordinated by The CBR Center for Regenerative Medicine, which was established by Cord Blood Registry as a scientific research collaborative with leading medical research institutions from around the country. The company estimates that more than 600 children already banked with CBR may have some form of severe hearing loss. The CBR Center for Regenerative Medicine is currently screening potential candidates for this study.

About Cord Blood Registry

Cord Blood Registry® (CBR®) is the world’s largest stem cell bank, focused on the collection, processing and storage of newborn stem cells from umbilical cord blood and ensuring their viability for medical use. CBR is the most recommended family cord blood bank by obstetricians and was the first family bank accredited by AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks). The company has been profitable and cash flow positive from operations on a cumulative basis since 1999. To date, CBR has processed and stored cord blood units for more than 250,000 newborns from around the world and has released more client cord blood units for specific therapeutic use than any other family cord blood bank. The company’s research and development efforts are focused on helping the world’s leading clinical researchers advance regenerative medical therapies using cord blood stem cells as well as enhancing its industry-leading technical innovations for stem cell collection, processing and storage that optimize quality and cell yield. For more information, visit www.CordBlood.com.

About The CBR Center for Regenerative Medicine

The CBR Center for Regenerative Medicine® is a scientific research collaborative established by Cord Blood Registry to promote greater scientific understanding of newborn stem cells and explore their use to treat life-threatening and life-limiting conditions in children that have no cure today. In partnership with leading medical research institutions and researchers, the CBR Center for Regenerative Medicine has been a catalyst for advancing human clinical trials investigating the use of a child’s own cord blood stem cells to treat brain injury, infant stroke, juvenile diabetes and hearing loss. Additional studies are in development or being considered for spinal cord injury and heart repair.