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