Saturday, June 02, 2007

New theory about Black Death

There can be various causes of "buboes" (swollen lymph nodes) so the new theory is plausible

For centuries, rats and fleas have been fingered as the culprits responsible for the Black Death, the medieval plague that killed as many as two thirds of Europe’s population. But historians studying 14th-century court records from Dorset believe they may have uncovered evidence that exonerates them. The parchment records, contained in a recently-discovered archive, reveal that an estimated 50 per cent of the 2,000 people living in Gillingham died within four months of the Black Death reaching the town in October 1348.

The deaths are recorded in land transfers lodged with the manorial court which – unusually for the period – sat every three weeks, giving a clear picture of who had died and when. The records show that 190 of the 300 tenants holding land in the town died during the winter of 1348-49, at a time when a form of bubonic plague spread by rat fleas would have been dormant. Experts now believe that the Black Death is more likely to have been a viral infection, similar to haemorrhagic fever or ebola, that spread from person to person.

The records came to light after they were donated to the Dorset History Centre by a firm of solicitors in whose office attic they had been stored. The historian Dr Susan Scott, of the University of Liverpool, said the documents backed up her theory that the outbreak was not caused by bubonic plague. She said: “Bubonic plague relies on fleas breeding and it is too cold during winter in Britain for this to happen.”


Doubts over obesity pill claims

Some of the health benefits claimed for a new weight loss drug may not be justified, say experts. Rimonabant, launched in the UK last summer, has been shown to aid weight loss by reducing appetite. But a Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin paper suggests claims that it also has an additional positive impact on the body's chemistry have not been proved. However, the manufacturers said the findings had proved consistent across all trials.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) is currently appraising the drug for use on the NHS. Manufacturers Sanofi-Aventis claim it has been shown to cut levels of potentially harmful cholesterol, fats and sugars in the blood to a greater extent than would be expected by weight loss alone. In theory, this should help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

But the DTB paper argued that research had failed to prove that any positive impact on body chemistry was solely down to taking the drug. It was possible, for instance, that it was down to advice given to patients taking the drug to lead a more healthy lifestyle, and take more exercise. The paper also highlighted the fact that in trials rimonabant had no effect on levels of "bad" cholesterol, and little or no effect on blood pressure.

It said the drug had not been effectively compared with other, cheaper weight loss drugs, such as Xenical (orlistat) and Reductil (sibutramine), which are both approved for NHS use. The DTB paper stated: "Orlistat is the drug for obesity for which there is the most evidence for efficacy and safety to date, and we have previously concluded that it is a reasonable option for obese patients where diet and exercise and/or behavioural measures alone have failed."

However, Dr Ian Campbell, medical director of the charity Weight Concern, said research did suggest that rimonabant had an extra effect on body chemistry over and above that expected through losing weight alone. He said this might be a direct result of the unusual way it works on fat cells. Dr Campbell said: "It's a new drug and we need more time to become fully aware of all its effects. "It is more expensive than other available drugs but should be considered when the benefits of weight loss for the patient can justify the investment."

A spokeswoman for Sanofi-Aventis said the effects on body chemistry had been consistently seen in all the trials of rimonabant. Further trials were underway to examine the effects of the drug further. She said there was no doubt that adopting a healthier lifestyle could have a positive impact, but in trials people given a dummy drug also improved their general lifestyle without the same level of effect seen in those taking rimonabant.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) rejected a complaint last year that an advert for rimonabant had exaggerated its benefits. A spokesman for the MHRA said it would examine the latest claims.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.


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