How One Disease May Prevent Another

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Disease Treatment

The knowledge that one disease may prevent the onset of another is not new. For example, the discovery that cowpox vaccines can prevent smallpox dates back to 1798.

Dr. E. Richard Stiehm, a professor of pediatrics at the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA, researched examples throughout medical history of ways that one disease prevents another.

His findings suggest that genetic, infectious and metabolic influences should be considered when looking for treatments, particularly in regard to HIV/AIDS.

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"Clinical observations of disease-versus-disease interactions have led to an understanding of the mechanisms of several diseases," Stiehm said. "In turn, these observations have led to the development of vaccines, therapeutic antibodies, medications and special diets."

Detailed in the January 2006 issue of Pediatrics, the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Stiehm's research illustrated 12 disease pairs, reviewed their therapeutic implications and suggested additional applications.

A few of the pairings that Stiehm described include:

  • Sickle cell disease and malaria. In 1948, British biologist J.B. Haldane proposed that malaria was an evolutionary force for selecting malaria-resistant genes. He suggested that those carrying the gene for sickle cell anemia were better able to survive in malaria-infected areas.

  • Leprosy patients have severe immune defects and cutaneous anergy: an inability to respond to skin testing. They hardly ever get psoriasis, a skin disorder. Starvation was used since biblical times for the treatment of seizures, which were believed to be demons.
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