ASTMH Annual Meeting 2021

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ASTMH Annual Meeting 2021 Blog / All Blog Posts / Kicking off #TropMed21: Previewing the virtual and exciting reality of this year’s meeting with new Scientific Program Chair

Kicking off #TropMed21: Previewing the virtual and exciting reality of this year’s meeting with new Scientific Program Chair

By: Matthew Davis, Burness

Photo: 11.16.21

The ASTMH team has been working diligently to make the virtual format of this year’s ASTMH Annual Meeting—aka #TropMed21—an informative, accessible and interactive experience. We all would love to be together in person, but like every year, #TropMed21 remains a feast of creative, compelling and critically important global health research.   

Earlier this year, Christine Petersen, DVM, PhD, FASTMH, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa, assumed her new role as Scientific Program Chair. Dr. Petersen and Associate Program Chair, Stephen Popper, ScD, a visiting scholar in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, have combed through tens of thousands of abstracts submitted by the world’s global health experts.   

Dr. Petersen takes us through a few of the highlights in the action-packed agenda of symposia, scientific sessions and poster presentations that span the depth and breadth of the society’s reach. Make sure to download the desktop and phone apps to follow the links below—and to maximize the opportunity afforded by the virtual format to easily browse and drop in on a wide range of sessions. We would love for you to gather with your colleagues for virtual or actual (of course safe/socially-distanced) watch parties as well as look for other opportunities over the next week to have some fun with the incredible community our Society brings together.  

First Stop: A Few Marquee Names in Global Health 

We are thrilled to have Tedros Ghebreyesus, PhD, Director General of the WHO, kick off the meeting at the opening plenary session on Wednesday, November 17 (at 5:30 PM ET) with his welcome remarks. Other notable speakers include remarks Thursday from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky MD, MPH, and Barney Graham, MD, Former Deputy Director of NIAID Vaccine Research Center at NIH. 

Highlights from Our Cornucopia of COVID-19 Research 

Investigating COVID-19 Impacts Part 1: Curious Findings from Africa: On Thursday, researchers studying patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Uganda will discuss their surprising finding: Patients with a history of malaria infections were far less likely to experience complications than those without. On Saturday, researchers working in Mali will detail their data showing high rates of SARS-COV-2 infections yet a curious absence of severe disease.  

How Racism Affects COVID-19 Risks: Thursday will feature a new study of Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities in Illinois that considers how structural racism can explain their higher rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths. Researchers are exploring how historical restrictions on employment and housing have pushed minority groups into jobs and living conditions that have increased their exposure to COVID-19. 

COVID-19 and Climate Change: A symposium Thursday considers the many ways in which COVID-19 and climate change may have a similar crisis pattern. That includes their extraordinary global reach, the way they both exacerbate racial and economic inequality, and also how climate impacts are intensifying infectious disease threats.  

COVID-19 Surveillance—Taking a Shortcut Through the Sewer: On Friday, researchers from Nicaragua will discuss their work to deploy a testing method at sewage treatment plants that can reveal early signs of community outbreaks. A poster presentation on Friday from researchers working in Ghana details similar work to estimate community cases based on SARS-COV-2 RNA isolated from public toilets.  

Ticks and COVID-19—There’s an App for That: Researchers on Friday will report evidence collected from The Tick App assessing whether the sharp increase in outdoor activities during the pandemic has increased risks of encounters with ticks—and hence risks of tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease.  

Investigating COVID-19 Impacts Part 2: Severe Disease in Native Americans: On Sunday, researchers from the University of New Mexico will report a trio of studies that found American Indian/Alaska Native patients hospitalized with COVID-19 suffered more severe disease outcomes even though they had either the same or fewer risk factors than other ethnic groups. The scientists will discuss evidence of high viral loads in this long -underserved patient population. 

Now, Let’s Take a Stroll Outside the Pandemic Bubble: 

There is no question the COVID-19 pandemic is the global health challenge of our lifetime, but our members have kept their focus on many other critically important diseases. A few sessions to consider: 

Ivermectin: Not Good for COVID, Amazing for Many other Diseases: On Thursday, look for new evidence that mass treatment with ivermectin—an important drug that unfortunately has become best known as a bogus COVID-19 treatment—has eliminated river blindness transmission in two states in Nigeria—a country with the world’s highest burden of the disease. Then, on Sunday, researchers will discuss the potential of adding ivermectin to birdfeed as a way to reduce West Nile transmission in the U.S.  

Traveler’s Diarrhea Antibiotic Throwdown: Two researchers will square off at a TropMed symposium on Thursday to debate whether reaching for antibiotics when this dreaded condition interrupts a vacation or work trip is a rational move or just diarrhea desperation—with potentially negative consequences.  

Ebola Persistence: On Thursday, two presentations (here and here) probe limited but concerning evidence from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that people previously infected and recovered from the disease can relapse and transmit infections to others. 

New Hope for Malaria Vaccines: A Friday symposium on malaria vaccines will review the historic decision from the WHO to recommend the world’s first and, so far, only malaria vaccine—known as RTS,S—for widespread use in young children across sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, on Thursday a team that includes researchers deeply involved in COVID-19 vaccine development will provide an update on an eagerly watched Phase 3 trial of a new malaria vaccine candidate. 

The Health Burden of LGBTIQ Discrimination: A symposium on Friday will explore health risks in low- and middle-income countries for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer communities (LGBTIQ). They consider how marginalizing or criminalizing people in these communities generates a range of health threats—from violent attacks to higher rates of suicide and substance abuse to the denial of healthcare that intensifies infectious and chronic disease threats.  

‘Accidental Host—The Story of Rat Lungworm Disease’: Our version of Friday movie night features a screening a new documentary about a snail-borne parasite found in tropical regions on five continents, including Hawaii and the southeast U.S., that invades human brains. The film includes patient stories and expert interviews to highlight a disease virtually unknown to physicians and those at risk.   

Malaria in Rice Fields, Influenza in Poultry & Pigs: On Sunday, researchers explore a potential rise in malaria risks from mosquitoes breeding in the proliferation of rice fields in West Africa. Staying with the food/disease connection: Other studies explore influenza transmission risks in live bird markets in Vietnam and pig production in Nigeria, keeping tabs on non-human strains of influenza given the risks that they could involve into human pandemic strains. 

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