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Weekly News Summary – 31st July

Welcome back to our news summary blog here at The Medic Portal. This week we will be discussing health stories on the following themes: novel ideas about antibiotic resistance, a potential cure for HIV and the link between mental and physical health.

Novel ideas about antibiotic resistance

Until now, it has been widely accepted that failure to complete a course of antibiotics encourages antibiotic resistance. However, a new study in the BMJ has proposed that traditional prescription lengths are outdated, promoting an overuse of antibiotics which, in itself, is encouraging resistance.

The researchers have stated that there is growing evidence that in many cases, far shorter courses are just as effective at halting infections, and thus advice on completing antibiotic courses needs to be reconsidered.

However, the leader of the Royal College of General Practitioners has warned that she “cannot advocate widespread behaviour change on the results of one study”. Indeed, more evidence is required before any policy changes can be made, as there are many potential risks. Firstly, there is a concern about patients stopping their medication as soon as they “feel better”, as improved symptoms do not always correlate with eradication of the infection. Secondly, if the evidence from the new study is not accurate, then advising shorter antibiotic courses will only serve to worsen our current antibiotic crisis, which has devastating implications for modern medicine as we know it.

Potential cure for HIV

A 9-year-old child in South Africa who was infected with HIV at birth has been off medication for 8 and a half years without any signs or symptoms of infection. Most people with HIV need daily treatment to prevent the virus from destroying their immune system, but this child, whose identity is being protected, had just one course of medication after birth.

Early therapy was not standard practice at the time, but was delivered as part of a clinical trial, after the child caught the infection from their mother. At the time, the child had very high levels of HIV in their bloodstream, but now the levels are undetectable. Unlike any other patient in this trial, the virus has not returned, and the patient appears to be completely cured.

HIV is a huge problem worldwide, with 36.7 million people living with the condition, and only around half of them receiving treatment. Without treatment, infected patients eventually progress to AIDS, a condition in which the immune system is severely compromised leading to recurrent serious infections and viral induced cancers. Understanding the mechanism by which this child has been cured could be key in the development of new drugs or vaccinations for HIV.

The link between mental and physical health

A new study published in the European Heart Journal has shown a significant link between depression and mortality for patients with coronary artery disease. In this research, depression was surprisingly shown to be the strongest risk factor for death, even when compared against prominent risks such as heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes or having a heart attack.

The study does not explore the reasons for this increase in mortality, but it is possible that this is due to poorer compliance with treatment plans compared to people with no mental health problems, or due to a link between depression and unhealthy diet and exercise patterns. It is also known that depression can cause physiological changes to the body, which may be a factor in the results of the study.

These findings highlight the importance of considering patients holistically, and not underestimating the link between mental and physical health. The medical community has been urged to take depression seriously when managing coronary artery disease.

Words: Mariam Al-Attar

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