Friday, February 27, 2015

Leprosy - then and now

In Mark 1:40, Jesus heals a man with leprosy. 

I think in the past I came across the idea that "leprosy" in the Bible might not actually be the leprosy that we know today.   Indeed, there is work by Biblical scholars and others to back up my memory.  This article by Cochrane (not Archie), material from Cornell, and an article from the Jewish Encyclopedia.  There is also Encyclopedia Judaica, made available online by the Bureau of Jewish Education in Indiana (search for "leprosy").

A PubMed search for leprosy AND bible finds 54 items, the oldest 1873 and the most recent October 2013. has information (for professionals). Public Health England has advice, with statistics.  Leprosy is rare in the UK, although it is a notifiable disease.  Between 2001 and 2010 there were 129 cases.  No case has definitely been acquired indigeneously since 1925.  However, globally, (figures from that same document) there were 244796 cases in 2009, over half of them in the South East Asia region of WHO.  Numbers of cases have been falling year on year since 2003, and in 1985 there were around 5 million.  There is a figure of "prevalence" for 2008 nearby, which is lower than the number of new cases detected, so I am not sure what this figure is, but whatever it is, the fall is striking.   

The same statistics, but containing 2010 and 2011 are in this WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record.  This also includes figures for the number of new cases, by country.

So, back to "leprosy" in the Bible.  

It's certainly interesting to explore whether "leprosy" in the Bible was leprosy as we know it, and if it was not, what it was.  It is also important to think about how it was regarded in the Bible (Jewish and Christian) and how Jesus regarded people with it, whatever it might have been.

Mark 1:40 has resonance today.   A longstanding friend of ours, Stephen Haward, wrote a Sunday School syllabus for the United Church of Zambia called Believing and Belonging, and uses the story to address the topic of HIV.  What do the stories talk about for me?   What is leprosy for the UK?

In closing, have a look at the work of the Leprosy Mission, a Christian organisation working with people affected by leprosy.   There is still discrimination against people with leprosy, and they have a programme of advocacy.  Their "Don't call me a leper" campaign addresses discrimination and stigma in the UK by campaigning for the word "leper" to be lost from current usage.   Have a look too at their information about leprosy.

SciELO and LILACS - a way into the Latin American literature

SciELO and LILACS are databases covering literature from Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the case of SciELO, other places.   It will include material that Medline, Embase and other “usual” sources miss.  

I have seen both mentioned as sources searched for systematic reviews.   In addition to that, of course, they will be useful if you have an interest in those parts of the world or health issues endemic there.


SciELO (“Scientific Electronic Library Online”) is a database of open access journal articles published in Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain, Portugal and South Africa.  It is really, I think, an online publishing platform.  It covers many subjects, but includes health sciences, social sciences and biological sciences.  In addition to being available at, SciELO Citation Index has been made available to subscribers to Web of Science.  A quick search for the same topic via the usual interface and via Web of Science suggests that the two interfaces do not cover the same date range.  In WoS you are of course using the standard WoS interface, although WoS subject categories are available via the usual interface.  The default search interface at that "usual" place is in Portuguese (SciELO is based in Brazil), but there are interfaces in English and Spanish.    I cannot see a search guide on the site, so will need to write one!


LILACS (“Latin-American and Caribbean System on Health Sciences Information”) covers health subjects only, and involves the WHO.  It has an English interface, and is a database of journal articles, books and theses from Latin America and the Caribbean.   Some of it is available in full text via links to SciELO.   Topic specific queries available from the home page include Millennium Development Goals, gender and health and social determinants of health.   There are also queries for specific study types.   The FAQs tell you more about LILACS.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Influenza in France, India, and England and Wales

Le Monde is reporting 600000 new cases of flu in a week, the article referring to a bulletin from the INVS, the Institut Veille Sanitaire.

Another article in Le Monde describes this year's outbreak of flu as the most important in the last five years, and has graphs of the number of people hospitalised, the incidence per 100000 people, and one depicting the cases in the last five years.  The INVS is suggesting this year's outbreak, mostly due to H3N2, is nearing its peak.

Thinking of flu, the HPA's weekly bulletin for England and Wales is here (for 19th February), and the New York Times has a topic page drawing together all its material about influenza.  This page carries its report that India is currently experiencing an epidemic, due to H1N1.