Vaccine against heroin addiction nears human testing
The first vaccine with the potential to block the “high” of heroin has passed a preclinical stage of testing in primates. The vaccine, developed at The Scripps Research Institute [TSRI], is the first of its kind against an opioid to successfully reach this phase. Researchers believe that vaccinating recovering heroin addicts against the drug’s often-deadly effects will help prevent them from relapsing back into drug use. In recent years, heroin use has become a worldwide problem, with its epicenter in the U.S.
The potential vaccine works by exposing the immune system to a part of the heroin molecule’s structure, teaching the body to produce antibodies against heroin’s psychoactive products. The antibodies then neutralize heroin molecules, blocking them from reaching the brain and causing the feeling of intense euphoria that addicts crave. In the primate tests, the vaccine’s effect was greatest in the first month after vaccination, but lasted for over eight months, with no negative side effects noted.
The vaccine has been in development for eight years at TSRI’s Janda Laboratory in California. Researchers there previously have tested vaccine candidates under laboratory conditions and in rodents, where the strategy also proved effective for neutralizing heroin. They now believe the vaccine candidate will be declared safe for human trials, because its components have either already been approved by the FDA or have passed safety tests in previous clinical trials. Their research was published recently in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Preventing tick-borne diseases
Health officials have predicted that the summer of 2017 may be one of the worst on record for the size of the nation’s tick population. Tick-borne diseases continue to rise in the U.S. as well – since the late 1990s, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease in the nation has tripled, and the number of counties in the Northeast and upper Midwest considered high-risk for Lyme disease has increased by more than 300 percent.
The same is true in Missouri, where a mild winter failed to kill off large numbers of the parasitic insects prior to their summertime population explosion. Through early June of this year, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services [DHSS] has reported 82 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, another common tick-borne illness, and 97 total cases of tick-borne disease. Overall, the most common tick-borne diseases reported in Missouri are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Q-fever, Lyme disease and other Lyme-like illnesses.
According to the DHSS, prevention is the best strategy for avoiding tick-borne diseases – so understanding a bit about tick behavior may help. Contrary to popular belief, ticks cannot jump, fall from trees or fly; they are generally found within three feet of the ground. To find a host, a tick will generally perch itself with front legs extended on the stems of grass or low brush, or on the edges of leaves on the ground. Using this “ambush” strategy, the tick waits until its animal or human host brushes against the vegetation. That’s why avoiding places with low, thick brush or ground cover, uncut grass or dead leaves, and walking in the center of trails when hiking, are common-sense ways to prevent tick bites. Other DHSS recommendations include:
• Use a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
• Use products that contain permethrin to pretreat clothing and gear such as pants, socks and tents, or wear clothing that has been pre-treated with permethrin.
• Bathe or shower as soon as possible after being outside, to wash off ticks before they bite.
• Treat dogs and outdoor cats with products that kill and/or repel ticks.
• Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home and attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, backpacks and other items.
• Dry clothing on high heat for 10 minutes after being outside in a tick-infested area. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If they require washing first, hot water is recommended. For clothing that can’t be washed in hot water, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes until warm and completely dry.
If these preventive measures fail and a bite occurs, it’s important to remove the tick as soon as possible. Health experts advise that the best way to do so is to grasp its head with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and remove it slowly and steadily, then clean the area with a disinfectant. Signs and symptoms of tick-borne disease vary among individuals and differ according to which illness is involved. In general, however, be watchful for symptoms including sudden high fever, severe headache, muscle or joint aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea in the weeks following a tick bite. Another possible sign is a rash or pus-filled wound that appears at the site of a tick bite, or a spreading rash which may have a bulls-eye appearance. If any suspicious symptoms appear, consult a doctor immediately.
On the calendar
Area residents are encouraged to participate in an American Red Cross blood drive from 2-6 p.m. on Friday, July 28 at Auto Spa Etc., 8 Ellisville Town Center in Ellisville. To schedule an appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org.
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Cholesterol and glucose wellness screenings are available from 7-8:30 a.m. on Friday, July 28 at St. Luke’s Convenient Care inside Dierbergs, 1080 Lindemann Road in Des Peres; and on Friday, Aug. 11 at St. Luke’s Women’s Center, 6 McBride & Son Corporate Center Drive in Chesterfield. Screenings include cholesterol and glucose measurements, plus a one-on-one consultation in which a registered nurse/health coach provides blood pressure and body composition measurement. A 10-hour fast and advance appointments are required. Cost is $20 for all screenings. To register for one of the two dates, visit www.stlukes-stl.com.
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St. Louis Children’s Hospital sponsors a Staying Home Alone workshop from 9-11:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 29 at St. Louis Children’s Specialty Care Center, 13001 N. Outer Forty Road in Town & Country. This workshop will help parents and children determine the child’s readiness – physically, mentally, socially and emotionally – to stay home alone and help prepare the child for this experience. Workbooks are provided. The fee is $25 per family. To register, call (314) 454-5437.
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Home Alone, a program designed especially for children ages 9 and 10 who may be staying home alone for the first time, is from 9-10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 1 at the St. Luke’s Hospital Institute for Health Education, 222 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield. Topics covered in the session include handling the unexpected, stranger danger, simple first aid, dealing with loneliness and boredom, storm safety, trust and honesty. Children may not register for Home Alone and Sitter Skills classes on the same day. Cost is $15 per child. Register [using the child’s name] at www.stlukes-stl.com; for more information, call (314) 542-4848.
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Sitter Skills, a program for beginning babysitters, is offered from noon-2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 1 at the St. Luke’s Hospital Institute for Health Education, 222 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield. The course is designed for girls and boys age 11 and older and covers babysitting basics, safety information, first aid and child development. Participation certificate, babysitting handbook and bag, and a light snack are provided. Children may not be registered for Sitter Skills and Home Alone classes on the same day. Cost is $20 per child. Register [using the child’s name] at www.stlukes-stl.com; for more information, call (314) 542-4848.
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A presentation and discussion for women, Staying Healthy Below the Belt, is offered from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 9 at St. Luke’s Hospital Institute for Health Education, 222 S. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield. Program topics will include common pelvic health issues, symptoms, treatment options and ways to seek help. Admission is free, but space is limited. Register online at www.stlukes-stl.com; for more information, call (314) 542-4848.