Lifestyle dis­eases that can sur­vive in the air could be con­ta­gious: sci­en­tists

Pretoria News Weekend - - HEALTH -

LON­DON: At one time, in­fec­tious dis­eases used to dec­i­mate hu­man pop­u­la­tions. But now, thanks to vac­cines and an­tibi­otics, few of us need worry about “catch­ing” any­thing worse than a cold, flu or an up­set stom­ach. But have we be­come too com­pla­cent?

Sci­en­tists are find­ing ev­i­dence that you might be able to catch lifestyle dis­or­ders such as di­a­betes, Alzheimer’s and even joint pain.

Last year, sci­en­tists found that bac­te­ria from the gut that have been linked to con­di­tions such as in­flam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease and al­ler­gies can form spores – tiny hi­ber­nat­ing seeds – given off by bac­te­ria that help it sur­vive and mul­ti­ply.

The re­search, pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture, shows the spores can sur­vive in the air and po­ten­tially in­fect oth­ers.

“This is a new way of trans­mit­ting dis­ease that hasn’t been con­sid­ered,” said re­searchers at the Well­come Trust Sanger In­sti­tute.

We look at the sur­pris­ing con­di­tions re­searchers be­lieve might be in­fec­tious.

Ear­lier this year, US re­searchers sug­gested that Type 2 di­a­betes might be caught from dam­aged pro­teins known as pri­ons – these are in­fec­tious agents, like those that trans­mit­ted BSE (or mad cow dis­ease) from cat­tle to hu­mans.

The sug­ges­tion might sound ab­surd at first, but a team at the Univer­sity of Texas has found strik­ing ev­i­dence, pub­lished in The Jour­nal of Ex­per­i­men­tal Medicine.

The re­searchers found that most Type 2 pa­tients had clumps of dam­aged pro­tein, known as IAPP, in their pan­creas, the or­gan which pro­duces in­sulin vi­tal for keep­ing blood sugar at the right level.

Then, the team in­jected IAPP into the pan­creas of healthy mice and within a few weeks the mice also had too much blood sugar, and the in­sulin-pro­duc­ing beta cells in their pan­creas were dy­ing.

It’s not de­fin­i­tive proof that di­a­betes can be caught, but the team is in­ves­ti­gat­ing pos­si­ble ways pri­ons could in­fect hu­mans, such as via blood trans­fu­sions or eat­ing prion-in­fected meat.

De­spite sci­en­tists’ ef­forts, we un­der­stand lit­tle about the cause for sev­eral dis­eases that slowly de­stroy brain cells, such as Alzheimer’s or ALS (Amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis, also known as mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease) which causes creep­ing and to­tal paral­y­sis.

Re­cently, how­ever, a po­ten­tial cul­prit has emerged – cyanobac­te­ria, a close rel­a­tive of al­gae, which cre­ates blooms on lakes and ponds.

In the US, a neu­rol­o­gist iden- ti­fied ALS hot spots near lakes and won­dered if cyanobac­te­ria blooms on the wa­ter could be a fac­tor.

It turned out that the air above a bloom­ing lake was full of cyanobac­te­ria, thrown up in the spray cre­ated by wind or boats, which could be in­haled. Then BMAA was found in dis­eased brains.

Ear­lier this year, sci­en­tists at the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute for Eth­nomedicine re­ported that vervet mon­keys given BMAA de­vel­oped the plaques and tan­gles found in the brains of ALS and Alzheimer’s pa­tients.

The team at the Well­come Trust Sanger In­sti­tute, which dis­cov­ered that hu­man gut bac- teria form “spores” that could leave the body and sur­vive in the out­side world, said cer­tain types of gut bac­te­ria were linked to obe­sity.

The Well­come re­searchers sug­gested air­borne obe­sity mi­crobes could be part of the rea­son why obe­sity tends to run in fam­i­lies (as well as ge­net­ics and lifestyle).

We gen­er­ally think of arthri­tis as mainly af­fect­ing the joints of older peo­ple.

Yet it might be that joint pain can be caused by bac­te­ria. Among the bac­te­ria most likely to af­fect the joints are staphy­lo­coc­cus, which are bet­ter known for caus­ing skin and si­nus prob­lems; gono­coc­cus – re­spon­si­ble for gon­or­rhoea; strep­to­coc­cus that usu­ally af­fects the skin and throat as well as caus­ing menin­gi­tis and uri­nary tract in­fec­tions; and pneu­mo­coc­cus which, along with pneu­mo­nia, also causes ear and si­nus prob­lems.

The think­ing is that once you’ve caught an in­fec­tion, even if this clears up, the bac­te­ria can travel to any joint via the blood. Coeliac risk for a part­ner: We know that the bac­te­ria in our gut – our mi­cro­biome – can have a big im­pact on our health, in­clud­ing our im­mu­nity.

But could it also af­fect our risk of de­vel­op­ing an auto-im- mune con­di­tion such as coeliac dis­ease? The con­di­tion, which causes the im­mune sys­tem to re­act to gluten, a pro­tein in wheat and other grains, is known to be ge­net­i­cally linked: first-de­gree rel­a­tives have a raised risk of it or other auto-im­mune dis­eases such as rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

Two years ago Swedish re­searchers analysing a big data­base found that the risk was also the same for the non-re­lated fam­ily mem­ber – the hus­band or the wife.

They sug­gested shar­ing liv­ing con­di­tions means shar­ing gut mi­crobes and that this some­how primed them for the con­di­tion. – Daily Mail

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