Many countries face a mass migration every autumn. In the UK around 1.8 million young people leave their normal place of residence and move to a few hundred concentrated locations, where they often live and work at high density.
We are all populated by microbes – helpful or otherwise – which form a community known as a microbiome. Recent research by Ryan Newton and co-workers has shown that sewage-based analysis of the human microbiome can be used to diagnose health issues at a population level.
In the first episode of BBC historical drama Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s novel of the same name, Thomas Cromwell returns home to find his wife and two daughters have all died during the night, victims of a pestilence – the "sweating sickness" – that is scything through the Tudor world.
Influenza is a global health problem that affects 3-5m people a year and causes fatalities among the very old, the very young, and those with existing medical conditions. The virus spreads through contact. When we look at people’s social networks, an inter-connected web emerges that can help disease spread.
The UK has just recorded its second visitation of bird flu in less than three months. At the end of November, the relatively new subtype H5N8 – which was first spotted in late 2009 in China and which has since made its way westwards as far as the Netherlands – turned up in Yorkshire.
When people look back on 2014, it may be best remembered as the year of Ebola. Two previous assumptions – that the virus was confined to remote regions of central Africa, and that the notorious virulence of the disease acted as a kind of self-limiting factor, with epidemics always burning themselves out after their initial flare-up – were shattered.
It’s that time of the year again. You probably think I mean Christmas, but as a virologist the sight of glitter, fairy lights and moulting pine trees immediately makes me think of the flu season. And if there’s one thing that can ruin your family’s Christmas, it’s the arrival of that particular unwanted guest.
This morning you woke up feeling a little unwell. You have no appetite, your head is aching, your throat is sore and you think you might be slightly feverish. You don’t know it yet, but Ebola virus has started to attack your immune system, wiping out the T-lymphocyte cells that are crucial to its proper function.