Around town: All creatures, great and small

vet_students_clinical_training_2006-08This weekend will see a gathering of the province’s veterinarians and staff in downtown Vancouver for the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and the Society of British Columbia Veterinarians (SBCV) Chapter Fall Conference and Trade Show. The program seems predominantly small animal–oriented, but in reality, vets across BC handle all sizes of patient, quadruped and biped, skin, scales, fur and feather in their daily working lives.

Have you ever wondered just how oddly varied a day’s work must be for a veterinarian?

While your local GP will open the surgery door to see only one species waiting in line, anything goes in the veterinarian’s waiting room—mammal, reptile, avian…fish?

For an example of the oddness routinely encountered by veterinarians, the first time I met with a chinchilla on the consult list, something that looked like a gremlin popped out of the pet carrier onto the table—not quite the fluffy cat I was expecting. Luckily the practice library (pre-Internet days, oh

Around town: The 8th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2015)

Vancouver AIDS Memorial, Sunset BeachNext week, Vancouver welcomes the 8th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention to the Vancouver Convention Centre. According to the conference website, this biennial forum is expected to receive about 6,000 delegates from a wide range of HIV/AIDS disciplines around the world.

Organized by the International AIDS Society (IAS), the conference is also a partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC) Division of AIDS, which works out of St. Paul’s, Providence Health Care’s downtown hospital.

In addition to learning through seminars and keynote presentations (find the full program here), delegates will have the opportunity to experience first-hand part of the continuum of care that Vancouver offers people with addiction and mental illness, as well as HIV. Conference attendees can sign up for an engagement tour of Insite, North America’s first legal supervised drug injection site, to learn about the city’s outreach to marginalized members of our community.

A smartphone-based mobile lab?

Engineers at Cornell University presented work on smartphone-based medicine at CLEO: 2013 last month, the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics. Their creation is an external device that connects to a smartphone and can be used to diagnose Kaposi’s sarcoma and a slew of other serious conditions. Based on the press release, the smartphone itself isn’t doing any sensing. Instead, it acts as a lightweight and (relatively) low-cost computer that analyzes the input from the external device and displays the results to the user.

SkinTumors-PA100992The emphasis on detecting Kaposi’s sarcoma is interesting, since the condition typically doesn’t manifest until HIV has progressed to AIDS. In places where Kaposi’s sarcoma is much more widespread and where other methods of detection are less available, this tool could be extremely valuable as a way of securing a definitive diagnosis: not everyone with AIDS develops Kaposi’s sarcoma, but Kaposi’s sarcoma is an extremely reliable indicator of AIDS.

The researchers are also promoting this setup for other conditions: syphilis and MRSA are both possible targets, and MRSA in particular seems like a big deal, since

Making the myth of patient zero

Don Sapatkin has a really interesting piece up at right now. It chronicles the origin of the “patient zero” narrative. If you’re not familiar, the story is that all known cases of HIV in the United States can be traced back to a single, unusually promiscuous individual, a flight attendant from Canada named Gaetan Dugas. While a lot of people have known this to be bunk basically since it was published, many others seem to believe it. I first encountered it on a message board where it was posted as an interesting factoid.


What Sapatkin’s article reveals is that the entire “Patient Zero” story was a calculated PR strategy by HIV researchers and public health officials who had become desperate to bring the disease into the public eye. According to the people quoted in the article, it worked. According to others, the effect on Dugas was ruinous, and his treatment utterly inhumane.