Infectious diseases

Sepsis: When infection overwhelms

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

The dangers of sepsis are more pronounced for certain parts of the population, and more likely to be caused by certain types of infections, like pneumonia. It’s vital that patients and those close to them be aware of the signs of sepsis and get immediate medical attention if it is suspected.

Genital herpes: The painful facts about a tricky virus

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

While most people know that genital herpes is transmitted through sexual contact, many people don’t realize that it’s possible to carry the virus and infect others without showing outward symptoms or even being aware that they have it. A person with confirmed genital herpes can take medication to help decrease the chances of spreading the virus. However, it’s no guarantee, so it’s best to have a frank conversation with a new sexual partner.

MRSA: The not-so-famous superbug

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

The MRSA bacteria is not uncommon, and people can become seriously ill when MRSA infections go unchecked. Unfortunately, MRSA can be particularly difficult to treat because it easily adapts to become resistant to antibiotics. Although these infections occur primarily in hospitals, they can also occur in close or crowded conditions where it’s possible to come in contact with an infected wound, or if personal items are shared. Signs of MRSA should be reported to your doctor right away. Luckily, careful hygiene and hand washing can help you avoid this troublesome infection.

Why we need to make it harder for parents to refuse vaccines

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Choosing to vaccinate a child — or not — doesn’t just affect that child, but also undermines the concept of herd immunity that protects others in the community from the spread of certain diseases.

What “native” Zika infections mean for the United States

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

News that mosquitoes in the U.S. carry Zika is concerning, but experts say that Zika likely won’t spread here as it has in Central and South America. The virus poses a danger to pregnant women and their unborn children because Zika may cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby’s head is unusually small and the brain does not develop properly. The CDC warns pregnant women, or those trying to become pregnant, to avoid areas with high rates of Zika infection, and warns all travelers to such areas to take certain precautions.

“Double dipping” your chip: Dangerous or just…icky?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The idea of double dipping became a mainstream public worry because of an episode of Seinfeld, bringing up the idea that double dipping might be grosser than we originally thought it was. Although it originally started as a playful debate, double dipping does raise questions about the spread of bacteria, and believe it or not, research has tried to address these questions.

The trouble with antibiotics

Susan Farrell, MD
Susan Farrell, MD, Contributing Editor

The overuse of antibiotics has led to an increase in antibiotic resistance, and inappropriate prescribing and antibiotic misuse are major contributors to this problem. In one study conducted between 2010 and 2011, researchers noted that as many as 34 million prescriptions for antibiotics were written for illnesses like the flu, upper respiratory infections, and bronchitis, all of which typically don’t require the use of antibiotics. Although antibiotic use is necessary for some infections, like pneumonia and urinary tract infections, many people will often get better in a reasonable amount of time by simply treating symptoms.

“Superbugs” and the very real threat of untreatable infections

Michaela Kane
Michaela Kane, Contributor

Doctors recently discovered a gene in E. coli bacteria that makes it resistant to an antibiotic that is typically used when other drugs fail. This new finding suggests that effectiveness of last-resort antibiotics is at risk. As more bacteria evolve to “outsmart” antibiotics, scientists are increasingly concerned about infections caused by “superbugs” that cannot be treated with existing antibiotics.

A bummer for kids: Nasal flu vaccine not effective

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

For years, many kids could skip the traditional flu “shot” — along with the tears — and still be protected by the nasal spray vaccine also known as the LAIV (live attenuated influenza vaccine). But not this year. Studies now show that the nasal vaccine is quite ineffective, and pediatricians are starting to change their flu recommendations from a nose squirt to a shot.

Zika: Worse than we thought?

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Just a few months ago, public health experts were confident that there would be minimal spread of Zika virus into the United States. But as they’ve continued to study Zika and catalog its effects on countries around the world, they’re discovering that it might be scarier than they initially thought. We’ve summarized the latest findings on Zika and included tips to help you ward it off.