Research Day allows Emerging Pathogens Institute to show the breadth of its work
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.
Alachua County schools with better "grades" generally have higher immunization rates, according to preliminary data presented at the sixth annual Research Day on Thursday at the University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute.
Gainesville's Wiles Elementary, with an "A" grade, had the highest vaccination rate.
Vaccination rates at elementary schools averaged 48 percent, compared with 40 percent at middle schools and 21 percent at high schools.
"Each year we've gotten more schools involved in the project," said Dr. Kathleen Ryan, a University of Florida pediatrician who is coordinating Alachua County's FluMist program, which was fully implemented in 2010. "Our goal is 70 percent (participation)."
Ryan said the higher rate at elementary schools can be explained by the fact that "in elementary schools, parents are still in charge. By the time kids reach high school, parents are no longer in charge."
So high school kids often end up getting vaccinated when they go to the doctor for another reason, Ryan added.
Ryan's research was one of many projects unveiled at Thursday's EPI event, ranging from analyses of the Huanglongbing (HLB) disease wiping out much of Florida's citrus crop to rankings of the world's most widespread food-borne illnesses.
EPI director Dr. Glenn Morris said the Emerging Pathogens Institute is uniquely poised to bring together many facets of global health care problems and work on interdisciplinary approaches to solving them. Research Day is an opportunity to showcase some of these efforts.
"The whole point is to bring together teams to address global issues," Morris said. "We have to understand things like hosts, malnutrition and micro-organisms to predict when problems are going to arise and develop appropriate therapies."
Undernutrition in children of the developing world is one big problem that leads to other
problems. For example, inadequate substitutes for breast milk — that use water containing pathogens — may lead to diarrheal disorders that cause death or stunted growth in children, said Dr. Patrick Concannon, who spoke at Research Day and as of next Monday becomes director of the UF Genetics Institute.
Children with stunted growth can suffer a loss of IQ points, in addition to not reaching their full height. Later in life, they can develop metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, Concannon continued.
"It's really a double whammy in developing countries, with the excess death rates ... and those that live have disabilities or chronic conditions."
Concannon is also investigating whether mutated genes might be responsible for stunted growth.
"My hope is that we will have more insight into the genetic pathways involved in stunting," said Concannon, who is conducting genetic studies in Bangladesh. This research might ultimately lead to develop targeted immunization plans instead of NGOs' "one-size-fits-all approach," he said.
Closer to home, the HLB disease that was first detected in a citrus crop near Miami in 2005 appears to be traveling north — at least as far as Gainesville, researchers said. HLB, also called the "greening" disease, results in a premature, "green" crop of sour fruit.
Dr. Ariena van Bruggen, a UF professor of plant pathology, said that although spraying uninfected trees with insecticide may help delay the onset of HLB, increasingly growers are also using nutritional sprays with resistance-enhancing chemicals.
"Trees are able to cope with the disease much better in the long run," van Bruggen said.
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