Saturday, March 27, 2010

Facebook linked to rise in syphilis by British "expert"

A British public health expert has blamed Facebook for a resurgence of the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis, but Australian STI researchers have called the claim "far fetched".

Data published by several British newspapers this week indicated that cases of syphilis had increased fourfold in Sunderland, Durham and Teesside - the areas of Britain where Facebook is most popular.

Professor Peter Kelly, director of public health in Teesside, told The Sun newspaper that "social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex". "I don't get the names of people affected, just figures, and I saw that several of the people had met sexual partners through these sites," he said.

But Shailendra Sawleshwarkar, a research fellow in the University of Sydney's STI research centre at Westmead Hospital, said the same could be said about any communications technology - even the telephone - and instead of blaming social networking sites we should harness them to spread preventative messages.

"It's allowing people to meet more frequently, now that doesn't actually directly mean that it's going to increase the rates of syphilis but it does mean that there's more chance for people to meet and have sex," he said in a phone interview.

"At the moment it seems really far-fetched to link them [Facebook and syphilis] together without looking at the actual behaviour of the people involved. You need to not use a condom to spread these infections, so it boils down to the basic message that's not getting across."

Dr Sawleshwarkar cited figures from the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research showing the rate of diagnosis of infectious syphilis in Australia increased by 37 per cent in younger people (15-19) and 70 per cent in those aged 20-29 between 2004 and 2008. But he said the rate of infections reached a peak in 2007, and declined in 2008. Figures for last year are not due out until July.

Dr Sawleshwarkar said technologies such as social networking sites and text messaging were increasingly being used by health bodies in Australia to spread information about various sexually transmitted infections and how to prevent them. "I think use of a condom is more important, no matter what means of communication you use [to find sex]."

Facebook said in a statement that the reports of the syphilis link are "ridiculous" and "ignore the difference between correlation and causation".

"As Facebook's more than 400 million users know, our website is not a place to meet people for casual sex - it's a place for friends, family and coworkers to connect and share," the company said.


Beta-blockers find a new role – in battle against breast cancer

Sounds like good news -- if replicated in a proper study

One of the medical breakthroughs of the 20th century, the discovery of the beta-blocker, transformed the treatment of heart disease, angina, strokes, high blood pressure and anxiety. Now, days after the death of its Nobel prize-winning British creator , the wonder drug can claim another unexpected clinical success — as a potential treatment for breast cancer.

Research presented yesterday at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona showed that treatment with beta-blockers can help to reduce the spread of cancer in patients with breast tumours and improve their chances of survival.

The first study into the effects of beta-blockers on breast cancer suggests that patients taking the drugs got greater protection against cancer spreading to other parts of the body or returning at the original site.

Beta-blockers, taken by millions of Britons, block the action of stress hormones in the body. The creation of the drugs in the late 1950s by Sir James Black, a Scottish scientist, is considered one of the landmark discoveries of modern medicine.

The study, by scientists at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham University Hospital, showed that beta-blockers also blocked the high levels of stress hormones found in breast cancer tumours, and which fuel cell proliferation and the movement of cancerous cells.

Des Powe, the study leader, said that though the trial was an initial study and involved a small number of patients, it was “sufficiently convincing for urgent clinical trials to be formed”.

The study looked at data on 466 patients over ten years. Three groups were examined: those being treated for hypertension by beta-blockers, those whose high blood pressure was treated by other medications, and those who did not suffer from hypertension and were therefore not taking any medication. Forty-three of the 466 patients were already taking beta-blockers and, in this group, there were significant falls in both cancer spread and local recurrence. They also had a 71 per cent lower risk of dying from breast cancer compared with the other groups.

Dr Powe said: “We are encouraged by these results, which have already shown that by using a well-established, safe and cost-effective drug, we can take another step on the road to targeted therapy in breast cancer.”

Drugs with unexpected uses: Some of the most high-profile drugs have found new life in unexpected roles, confirming Sir James Black’s maxim “that the most fruitful basis of the discovery of a new drug is to start with an old drug”.

They include:

— Sildenafil (Brand name Viagra). Started life as a potential medication for angina and high blood pressure, but was shown to be of little effect. A noticeable side effect in patients studied proved far more compelling, prompting the arrival of a blockbuster medication for improved erectile function called Viagra.

— Thalidomide (Thalidomid). Developed as a pain-killer and tranquiliser which was found to help morning sickness, resulting in thousands of pregnant women taking it and the discovery of horrific side-effects on the unborn child. Now subject of clinical trials for use in a range of cancers, including small cell lung cancer, and used for erythema nodosum, an inflammation of the fat cells under the skin.

— Duloxetine (Cymbalta, Yentreve). Devised and used as an antidepressant for severe depression and generalised anxiety, but which was also found to be an effective treatment for stress urinary incontinence and pain alleviation linked to diabetic nerve damage.


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