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Technology finds possible cause of ancient epidemic

Oaxaca, Mexico — Researchers with the Munich, Germany-based Max Planck Institute used new DNA screening software called the Metagenome analyzer Alignment Tool (MALT) to possibly solve an ancient medical mystery, CNN and others reported.


In the 1500s, an epidemic called “cocoliztli” killed 80 percent of the native population in large areas of Guatemala, Mexico, and other Central American countries.  Records from the time describe symptoms matching those of typhoid fever.


Typhoid is caused by the Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C bacteria.  And using MALT, which scans for the presence of any known bacteria, not a target bacterium, researchers found DNA traces of Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C at the ancient Mexican resting place of some victims.


While researchers cannot conclusively say that cocoliztli was indeed typhoid, it would make sense, given that European explorers of the “New World” at the time frequently carried diseases to which they were immune, then infecting defenseless natives.


The research was published Jan. 15 in the journal Nature.


In related news, a careful study of the spread patterns of the Black Death, Europe’s 1347-1351 bubonic plague epidemic that killed millions, now concludes that the plague was spread by humans, not by rats as commonly believed.  That study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.


Smartwatch measures blood pressure

Las Vegas, NV — If an innovative new device by health and robotics tech giant Omron gets FDA approval, taking your blood pressure could soon be as easy as telling the time.


The Omron HeartGuide, a functioning blood pressure cuff built into a stylish digital wristwatch, measures the wearer’s blood pressure with the press of a button.


The HeartGuide also comes with a slew of standard modern features, including a fitness tracker and accompanying smartphone app.  The HeartGuide, which was rolled out at the CES 2018 consumer technology show in Las Vegas this Jan. 9-12, is expected to be FDA-approved by year’s end.  It will retail for about $350.


Bulky wrist-affixed blood pressure monitors and devices, including several by Omron, have already been on the market for several years.


Blockbuster psoriasis drug Cosentyx keeps winning

Basel, Switzerland — Data from a maker-sponsored new study released Jan. 15 show that psoriasis drug Cosentyx does better than nearest competitor Stelara.  Cosentyx is made by Swiss company Novartis AG.  Stelara is produced by New Jersey-based rival Johnson & Johnson.


Since its Jan. 2015 FDA approval for plaque psoriasis, Cosentyx was also approved for ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis, two other serious conditions, becoming a blockbuster drug—and far outpacing Stelara, which was first approved in 2009.


Cosentyx is among the first of a new class of drugs called interleukin (IL) inhibitors.  These drugs reduce symptoms of several diseases by targeting the genetic mechanisms that are their cause. 


With their robust medical success also producing robust financial success, interleukin inhibitors have become a hot item to Big Pharma over the last decade.  Besides Cosentyx and Stelara, the FDA has also approved competing drugs Taltz (made by Lilly), Siliq (Valeant) and Tremfya (J&J) for plaque psoriasis.


But while Novartis reports hopes of reaching $3 billion in Cosentyx sales in 2018, J&J is comparing Cosentyx to Tremfya, its newest (IL) inhibitor, in a large new study due out later this year.


Regardless of who loses, people with psoriasis—a skin disorder causing flaking, crusting and rash—stand to win.


Study: Married people have lower death risk

Atlanta, GA — An Emory University study suggests that married heart patients have lower risk of death than unmarried ones. 


The study, which reviewed four years of data on over,000 heart patients, also determined that being married seems to lower the risk of death due to any reason, not just cardiovascular illness.

Increased social support among married patients, as well as decreased stress and depression, and better adherence to medication regimens and healthy lifestyle choices, may explain the findings, researchers say.


The study was published Dec. 20 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.