If things are feeling pretty bleak these days, we get it. But there has been some actually, for-real good health news! Here a few positive stories that you may have missed.
1. Africa is officially declared free of wild polio.
This week, the independent Africa Regional Certification Commission deemed Africa free of wild polio, the BBC reports. Nigeria was the last country in Africa to be declared polio-free, and now the disease is only present in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Polio (poliomyelitis) is an infectious disease caused by different strains of poliovirus. It usually affects young children (under age 5) and can cause paralysis, the World Health Organization (WHO) explains. There’s no cure for polio, but there is a vaccine that protects against the infection.
Wild polio refers to cases of polio caused by the polio virus. In other rare cases, the disease can also be caused by a mutated version of a weakened strain of the virus originally included in the oral polio vaccine. This type of polio virus takes a long time to develop and typically spreads in areas with low vaccination rates, the WHO says.
2. The FDA authorized a new method of simple, cheap saliva COVID-19 testing.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently authorized the use of SalivaDirect, a new type of COVID-19 test that uses saliva, SELF reported last week. Other types of tests for coronavirus require swabs and certain chemicals that are in short supply in some areas. But experts are excited about this new testing protocol because it doesn’t require those—and can be used by any lab in the country with the right equipment and authorization.
SalivaDirect isn’t the first saliva test for COVID-19 to get FDA authorization, but it has some advantages. In particular, it’s designed to be done with fewer lab steps, less specialized equipment, and with a lower price (the creators say it should cost about $10 in most cases).
3. Researchers uncovered new details about how “elite controllers” are able to suppress HIV without medical treatment.
Only two people have ever been officially considered cured of HIV, both of whom required bone-marrow transplants that helped their bodies become immune to the virus. But now a third person, a 66-year-old woman named Loreen Willenberg who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992, appears to have effectively suppressed the virus without medical treatment.
Willenberg is one of 64 “elite controllers” of the virus who participated in a new study, published this week in Nature. The fact that this small group of people exists is not new, but this is the most comprehensive study to date of the mechanism behind their ability to suppress the virus—to different degrees—without medication.
The researchers looked specifically for HIV proviruses, which are the form of the virus that integrates with a host’s genes, allowing it to replicate. They found that, among the elite controllers, 45% of the proviruses in their system are located in parts of chromosomes where that replication can’t occur. That’s compared to only 18% among 41 participants who are taking antiretroviral medications, the current mainstay of HIV treatment. And, out of all the participants, Willenberg had the lowest levels of proviruses in her system. Any proviruses the researchers did find weren’t able to replicate.
This research gives a new window into how elite controllers are able to suppress the virus—and gives experts clues for how to make treatment more effective for those who aren’t in that rare group, Science explains. Current antiretroviral medications aim to reduce the size of provirus “reservoirs” in those with HIV, but this research suggests that the location of the reservoir—where the proviruses are on the chromosome—may be a more important target than its size.