• How Omicron Variant Rattled the World in One Week

    The speedy detection and the rapid response of global health authorities shows how the world’s fight against COVID-19 has evolved. Scientists are now focused on finding new variants. In the case of Omicron, one was beginning to spread in South Africa, a nation with the resources to identify it—and the political will to announce it to the world. Experiments using infectious virus or that tease out the effect of individual mutations on its behavior will take more time, but research that looks at the interactions between Omicron’s mutant spike and antibodies should yield some answers on the immune evasion question in as little as a week, said Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

  • Coronavirus variants: Here's what we know

    Omicron, the newest coronavirus variant, is also the quickest to be labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization because of its seemingly fast spread in South Africa and its many troubling mutations. It carries a mutation called N501Y, which gave both Alpha and Gamma their increased transmissibility. Just last week, Scott Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch and colleagues reported in the journal Nature that this particular mutation made the virus better at replicating in the upper airway—think in the nose and throat—and likely makes it more likely to spread when people breathe, sneeze and cough.

  • Worker woes: Lack of affordable housing poses threat to island economy

    Most employees at the University of Texas Medical Branch don’t live on the island either, said Vivian Kardow, vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer. The medical branch imports 73 percent, 7,411, of its 10,122 Galveston campus employees from the mainland. Across all its campuses, the medical branch employs 15,361 people. The high cost of housing makes recruiting a challenge, she said.

  • Sherif Zaki, a legendary disease detective at CDC, dies at 65

    Current and former CDC officials spoke of a man with a unique ability to solve medical mysteries by studying tissues for the signatures of the infectious agent at play. “He really was kind of the secret weapon for a lot of what was done at CDC on emerging diseases,” said James LeDuc, who recently retired as director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Tom Ksiazek, a former CDC colleague and current professor of microbiology at UTMB’s Galveston National Laboratory, said Zaki pioneered the use of immunohistochemistry to identify foreign proteins in samples sent to the CDC, to help determine the underlying pathogens for a particular outbreak and understand the disease they caused. According to Ksiazek, Zaki’s reputation for cracking hard cases meant that the CDC has been enlisted to help solve outbreaks that other laboratories couldn’t.

  • German measles may be forgotten, but it's still a threat

    In the Vaccine Smarts column, Drs. Megan Berman and Richard Rupp discuss the need for rubella immunizations. “We don’t hear much about rubella anymore, but it’s the most common cause of vaccine-preventable birth defects on the planet.”

  • George Washington stopped smallpox and saved the Revolution

    Drs. Norbert Herzog and David Niesel write about how The American Revolution made smallpox spread more likely in this country. “Soldiers from England and Germany were arriving in large numbers, and recruits from all the colonies were joining the Continental Army. Soon after taking command in the summer of 1775, Washington assured the President of the Continental Congress that he would be ‘particularly attentive to the least symptoms of the smallpox,’ with plans to quarantine those suspected of having the disease in a special hospital.” Inoculations were also part of Washington’s strategy.

  • Peace and good health can start with gardening

    Dr. Victor S. Sierpina wrote about how to emphasize the health effects of gardening. “At our Family Medicine Stewart Road Clinic, for example, Dr. Sagar Kamprath has been leading a group of student and community volunteers to build and grow a community garden and green space, an island of beauty, peace and nourishment before and after their doctor visits. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Texas Medical Branch has a large community garden lovingly cared for by volunteer seniors.”

  • Are Houston doctors gathering for Thanksgiving?

    Dr. Megan Berman, an internist at UTMB’s Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences, has two partially vaccinated kids, ages 8 and 9. The family skipped their usual Thanksgiving flight to Wisconsin this year, opting instead for a drive to grandma and grandpa’s house in Texas. “If it was just me, I would be comfortable getting on a flight, knowing my risk is really low as a vaccinated person,” she said. “But we are going to be driving this year. It’s safer for the kids.”

  • FM mentor addresses diversity, equity with data

    Dr. Kendall Campbell, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch, has researched health equity and diversity in the health care workforce for more than a decade, publishing dozens of articles related to diversity, inclusion and equity in peer-reviewed journals. “If you can get pre-college youth in a lab, you can expose them to things that otherwise they just won’t see, and it may spark their interest to become chemists, biologists, engineers and doctors,” said Campbell. “One of the big issues for those who are underrepresented is exposure to a field. If they don’t know that field exists, they don’t know that they can be it. So having them see people who look like them doing these things opens the door to say, ‘Hey, I could do that.’”