Stories about: Global health

News Note: Norovirus outbreak threatens the Olympics

The HealthMap team at Boston Children's is currently tracking norovirus at the Olympics
The Computational Epidemiology Team at Boston Children’s Hospital tracks online, informal sources for disease outbreak monitoring and real-time surveillance of emerging public health threats through a platform called HealthMap. This is an image of what their surveillance dashboard is currently tracking (Feb. 15, 2018) in South Korea. Visit http://www.healthmap.org/en/ for more.

The 2018 Winter Olympics have brought nearly 3,000 delegates from 206 countries together in PyeongChang, South Korea. But just a week after kicking off on February 8, the games and its attendees are already being interrupted by a fast-spreading norovirus outbreak.

Norovirus is an extremely infectious disease transmitted through food, water or by touching a contaminated surface. Infection causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which can lead to symptoms including stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

In PyeongChang, there have already been 199 confirmed cases of norovirus — many of those sickened have been security guards hired for the games. Due to severe gastrointestinal symptoms, 41 guards have been hospitalized and more than 1,200 were placed in quarantine. 

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Effective vaccination of newborns: Getting closer to the dream

newborn vaccines global health

In many parts of the world, babies have just one chance to be vaccinated: when they’re born. Unfortunately, newborns’ young immune systems don’t respond well to most vaccines. That’s why, in the U.S., most immunizations start at two months of age.

Currently, only BCG, polio vaccine and hepatitis B vaccines work in newborns, and the last two require multiple doses. But new research raises the possibility of one-shot vaccinations at birth — with huge implications for reducing infant mortality.

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Arsenic and neural tube defects: Lessons from Bangladesh?

arsenic neural tube defects

Spina bifida and other neural tube defects have become fairly rare in the United States, thanks in part to folic acid added to foods and campaigns to get childbearing women to take folic acid. But in Bangladesh, spina bifida is a common occurrence on maternity wards; in fact, it is considered to be epidemic.

“No surveillance is done, so it’s not clear how many cases there are,” says Maitreyi Mazumdar, MD, MPH, a neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital who conducts environmental health research. “Children may die in delivery, or they may die before seeing a surgeon.”

Although folic acid supplementation isn’t widespread in Bangladesh, Mazumdar thinks there is another factor in play: the country’s ongoing epidemic of arsenic poisoning.

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Tracking Zika? Use HealthMap

Like a virus, the story of Zika virus in the Americas is evolving very, very rapidly. Just in the last week we’ve seen:

To help public health investigators, policy makers, epidemiologists and others keep up with the virus, the team at HealthMap has released a dedicated Zika virus tracking resource at http://www.healthmap.org/zika/. The new map brings in Zika-related information and news from a variety of sources in near real-time, and includes a constantly updated interactive timeline of the virus’s explosive spread across South and Central America.

The HealthMap team is also providing regularly updated coverage of the Zika virus outbreak on their Disease Daily blog.

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Accessible and affordable dialysis for children in developing countries


Children living outside industrialized nations have limited access to health care, and many children with severe kidney dysfunction do not have access to dialysis. Some developing countries have access to manual peritoneal dialysis, which requires the placement of a catheter into the abdominal cavity every one to two hours, 10 hours per day. But supplies are expensive, and many countries lack the infrastructure needed to get large quantities of dialysis fluid to children’s homes.

At the recent 2015 Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards, pediatric nephrologist Sara Jandeska, MD, of Rush Children’s Hospital in Chicago, pitched a portable, affordable solution: providing just the dialysis salts.

See more posts and videos from the Global Pediatric Innovation Summit.

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Mapping antibiotic resistance near you: ResistanceOpen

antibiotic resistance mapping ResistanceOpen

At the moment, it would appear the bacteria are winning. Antibiotic resistance is on the rise globally (in part because much of the public may not really understand how antibiotics work), threatening doctors’ ability to treat bacterial infections and potentially making surgery, chemotherapy and other medical procedures whose safety depends on antibiotic prophylaxis more risky.

Mapping antibiotic resistance — which bacteria are resistant to which drugs, and where — can help clinicians and public health officials decide how best to focus their control efforts. The challenge to date has been compiling resistance data in geographically useful ways.

“The data about antibiotic resistance are fragmented across laboratories and hospitals globally,” says Derek MacFadden, MD, a doctoral student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who is working with the HealthMap team in Boston Children’s Computational Health Informatics Program. “Most of the data that are available are very high level, so you can’t get an understanding of regional-level antibiotic resistance.”

This is where ResistanceOpen could come in handy. This new tool, launched by HealthMap team this week during the World Health Organization’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week, provides a window into regional and local antibiotic resistance patterns across the globe.

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Innovation Tank: And the winner is … AIR

Innovation Tank
Kevin Cedrone presents AIR to the judges at the Innovation Tank

“These start-ups are really looking to change the world. [They won’t be] the next Uber or Facebook. [Instead] they will really affect lives in the pediatric space,” said Troy Carter, founder and CEO of the entertainment company Atom Factory and newly named guest shark on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” as he introduced the Innovation Tank at the Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards.

Though each of the three participating innovations promised a tremendous impact on kids, the six judges agreed on the ultimate Innovation Tank winner and awarded a $30,000 investment to the Augmented Infant Resuscitator (AIR).

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My work, my life, my innovations: Salim Afshar, DMD, MD


By the time oral and maxillofacial surgeon Salim Afshar, DMD, MD, was 29 years old, he had acquired medical and dental degrees from Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Ever since, he has dedicated his life to community service and his surgical skills to improving community and global health.

An impassioned humanitarian, Afshar serves as one of the faculty members in the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change at Harvard Medical School. As an entrepreneur and innovator, he’s co-founded a health care software company that enables providers to engage and manage patients and their families around complex episodes of care.

“My whole orientation in life is around being of service — service to my patients, service to my community and service to my family,” Afshar says.

Hover over the icons in the photo above to learn more about Afshar and what keeps him going.

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Pediatric solutions: Which 5-minute pitch will ‘ignite’ the Taking on Tomorrow audience?

(Benjah/Shutterstock)
(Benjah/Shutterstock)

Affordable home dialysis, a device to triage heart murmurs, a cardiopulmonary support enhancer, a novel technology to treat septic shock and a better system for studying neurological function. Which of these ideas will catch fire?

The audience will decide November 10 at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Ignite Talks Competition. Hosted by Chris Duffy, Host of WBUR’s You’re the Expert and presented by Deloitte, the event will close out the hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2015.

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Four emerging advances in childhood cancer

girl-in-jfcThe 20th century saw great strides in curing childhood cancer, thanks primarily to the discovery that broadly toxic chemotherapy agents could kill malignant cells. Once virtually incurable, pediatric cancer now has an overall long-term survival rate topping 80 percent.

In the 21st century, attention is turning to additional, less toxic developments in cancer therapy. Lisa Diller, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, cites four coming changes:

  • Precision medicine treatments targeting specific genetic and epigenetic pathways
  • Immunotherapy drugs gaining FDA approval
  • Innovations to reduce treatment toxicity
  • A stronger focus on improving survival of childhood cancer globally.

Read more on the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s website.

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