New clues for ancient epidemics

Researchers presented findings last week on two scourges that left millions of victims in their wakes—the Black Plague and the series of epidemics which wiped out native Mexicans in the 16th Century, known as cocoliztli. The Black Plague killed an estimated 25 million Europeans and was thought to have been mainly spread by rats. But the new research applied current understandings of disease transmission and found a human model of transmission fit a lot better. Over in the New World, the cocoliztli outbreaks killed over 15 million, but researchers hadn’t pinned down the exact cause. Last week’s study puts forth Salmonella enterica, a bacterium, as a possible main offender. Good thing these contagions are in the past right? Except they’re both still present in the modern world. That’s cool.

Zika update: no one thinks it’s scary anymore

We’ve done a full 360 on Zika. In early 2016, the WHO declared Zika to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” Less than two years later we’re just injecting it into brains willy-nilly to see what it does. To be fair, it does seem to kill glioblastomas pretty effectively, so we’ll give mad scientists a pass this time. Still, the Zika crisis did seem to peter out quickly in the Americas, at least quicker than US government investors expected. Without any real epidemic threat from the virus forthcoming, funding for the government and Sanofi’s vaccine development partnership has dried up. There are still two vaccine candidates from GSK and Takeda in development, but the decision has been criticized as short-sighted.