Dr. Mark Gendreau offers some very reasonable advice, mostly about travel, for those who wish to avoid swine flu or any other airborne illness. A combination of individual, corporate and governmental action could make a great difference.
Unlike antibacterial soaps, plain handwashing and alcohol-based hand cleaners have not been shown to promote the development of resistant strains of microbes. I've always been in favor of handwashing (with plain soap), but it was the advice of a physician friend during the SARS crisis that led to the habit of carrying a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer—particularly useful in restaurants and grocery stores, before the Eucharist at church, after changing diapers in public place, and before consuming airplane food. (More)
[H]and hygiene is...the single most significant thing you can do to protect yourself and your family when you are traveling or out in public. Study after study shows marked reductions in transmission in public spaces when hand hygiene is practiced, and a recent study found nearly undetectable influenza particle levels after hands contaminated with influenza were washed with either soap and water or an over-the-counter gel containing at least 50 percent alcohol. Sanitize your hands before eating, drinking and after retrieving something from the overhead bin or returning from the restroom, and you have just cut your chances of getting infected by at least 40 percent. One of my disappointments with the airline industry is its lack of providing alcohol-based hand sanitizers to passengers. Such a service would go a long way in eliminating infection spread within aircraft.
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Let's not do it again. Back in 1976, panic over swine flu led to a mass-vaccination program in which nearly a quarter of the U.S. program received immunizations at a cost of $137 million—followed by millions more the government paid out in damages to victims of vaccine-related Guillain-Barre syndrome. Working in a medical facility at the time, I stood in line and received my free shot and thought no more about it. However, the whole affair is now considered a debacle, a textbook case of governmental over-response to fears of a pandemic, fears that turned out to be unfounded. Let's not do it again.
Panic and misinformation are spreading online, aided and abetted by the mainstream news media, which I know from local hurricane reports are adept at the art of crying wolf, deliberately creating fear because fear keeps people glued to the news reports, no matter how little real information is imparted.
Should the government be aware, alert, and prepared to act if this becomes a true emergency? Certainly. But let the ordinary citizen take reasonable precautions of the kind we should always be taking (handwashing, keeping sick people home), and avoid spreading panic, which is itself a dangerous disease.(Standard legal disclaimer: I am an Ordinary Citizen, not a doctor. If your doctor tells you to panic, don't let me stop you.)
Here's a perfect funding opportunity for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundatation, or anyone else who is interested in both technology and education: Sponsor grants—available to both universities and private video game companies—for the production of really good educational games.Although video game technology has made tremendous progress in recent years, educational software is for the most part stuck in the past. Entertainment is where the commercial money is, but with proper funding there's no reason why the best and brightest of our video game designers couldn't revolutionize gaming as a learning tool. (More)
From the frequency of my posting recently, my overwhelmed readers can see I'm hacking away at a hugh backlog. Here's another in the Casting the Net series, which makes the job easier for me, if not for you. The good news is, like the can't-pass-this-up offer at the bottom of my inbox, and that $1 off coupon that's been in my wallet for six months, several of my must-posts are enough out of date I can cheerfully hit the delete key and not trouble you with them. (More)
Two of my favorite bloggers have written recently about the perils of allowing ourselves to be too busy. (More)
Jon shared Controlling Our Food on Facebook, but as that leaves out most of my readers, I'll post it here. I almost didn't, because whoever put it up on Google Video is some sort of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist. That doesn't negate the importance of what this French documentary has to say, however, so in the spirit of "the wise man recognizes truth in the words of his enemies," I recommend taking the time to watch this video, because it raises some critical issues about the environment and the future of our food supply. (It's nearly two hours long, but it not content-dense, so you can do something else while listening or be liberal with the fast-forward button.)
Controlling Our Food is primarily about the Monsanto Corporation. To bolster the claim that Monsanto will do anything to increase profits, including lie and cover up and put people at grave risk of illness and death, the first part of the documentary is old news about PCBs and dioxin and industrial/agricultural pollution. True enough, but old, and overly long, so that even in two hours there is not enough time given to the main points. (More)
This morning Google News reported the following two stories sequentially [emphasis added]:
An 11th-hour ruling from the Bush administration gives health care workers, hospitals, and insurers more leeway to refuse health services for moral or religious reasons.
The rule, issued today, becomes effective in 30 days. Its main provisions widen the number of health workers and institutions that may refuse, based on "sincere religious belief or moral conviction," to provide care or referrals to patients.
"This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience," says Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt....
A wide number of medical groups strongly oppose the new ruling. These groups include the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and 27 state medical associations.
"Today's regulation issued by HHS under the guise of 'protecting' the conscience of health care providers, is yet another reminder of the outgoing administration's implicit contempt for women's right to accurate and complete reproductive health information and legal medical procedures," says a statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Replicating one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a Santa Clara University psychologist has found that people will follow orders from an authority figure to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks.
More than two-thirds of volunteers in the research study had to be stopped from administering 150 volt shocks of electricity, despite hearing a person's cries of pain, professor Jerry M. Burger concluded in a study published in the January issue of the journal American Psychologist.
"In a dramatic way, it illustrates that under certain circumstances people will act in very surprising and disturbing ways,'' said Burger.
The study, using paid volunteers from the South Bay, is similar to the famous 1974 "obedience study'' by the late Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. In the wake of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's trial, Milgram was troubled by the willingness of people to obey authorities — even if it conflicted with their own conscience.
I'm sorry I've been too busy to write much lately. Here's a quick tidbit for the one or two of you who check here daily and may be wondering where I am. (Thank you, loyal reader!)
Here's an article that debunks some common medical myths. I don't know as I believe everything they say (I mean, what parent hasn't seen a child go crazy after eating lots of sugar?), but here's an interesting take on the idea that it's important to wear a hat because we lose most of our body heat through our heads.
Interesting. I'm keeping my winter hat, though; there are times when I need that 10%.
[T]he US Army Field manual for survival recommends covering your head in cold weather because around 40-45% of body heat is lost through the head. A recent study, however, showed there is nothing special about heat loss from the head - any uncovered part of the body would lose heat. Scrutiny of the literature shows this myth probably originated with an old military study in which scientists put individuals in arctic survival suits (but with no hat) and measured their body temperature in extreme conditions. If the experiment had been done with the participants wearing only swimsuits they would not have lost more than 10% of their body heat through their heads, the researchers said.
The difficult task of developing a vaccine for malaria appears to be making progress. The RTS,S vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, has reduced malaria cases by about half in field trials, which is a significant breakthrough, even if not perfect.
It's frustrating, how much of a role fashion and politics play in determining where medical research is directed. Ask the man on the street to name the disease that's devastating Africa, and nearly everyone will answer, "AIDS." Granted, it's huge problem. But I'd be willing to bet that lack of clean water, good nutrition, and basic health education and services is the bigger issue. When it comes to research and funding efforts, since AIDS, being sex- and blood-borne, is nearly 100% preventable, while mosquito-transmitted malaria is nearly unavoidable if one lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, aren't our priorities a little skewed?This is where I'd usually complain about all the effort and publicity that's gone into Viagra, a drug which at best enhances the quaility of life for a few, while over a million people die each year from malaria—but I'm pretty sure it's income from drugs like Viagra that make it possible for pharmaceutical companies to work on the more important issues.
A recent news story highlights the perils of giving birth in Afghanistan. It's a great thing that midwives are being trained to help improve the country's appalling maternal mortality rate, which is as bad as it gets unless you give birth in Sierra Leone. However, the article indicates to me that we are training them in the medical model of care when it comes to childbirth. Given that childbirth is a natural and normal process for all but a small percentage of births, lack of access to (or willingness to use) doctors and hospitals is hardly the main problem. Promoting the Midwives' Model of Care along with good nutrition and prenatal care would probably do more than anything else to reduce the grip fear, pain, and death on Afghani mothers.Afghanistan needs Ina May Gaskin—albeit with a bit of censorship required, especially the part about orgasmic childbirth. That wouldn't go over with the imams, no, not at all....
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently doubled its recommendation of vitamin D intake for children, from 200 IU to 400 IU per day. Not only is vitamin D important in the prevention of ricketts, but there is increasing evidence that its deficiency can promote type 2 diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. Some doctors think 400 IU may not be enough.This recommendation is all well and good, but I draw the line at this: Breastfed and partially breastfed infants should be supplemented with 400 IU a day of vitamin D beginning in the first few days of life. The reason? [B]ecause of vitamin D deficiencies in the maternal diet, which affect the vitamin D in a mother’s milk, it is important that breastfed infants receive supplements of vitamin D. (More)
Years ago, when a friend recommended Airborne for staving off colds, I was skeptical, as I always am with such claims. But after reading the ingredients and deciding they wouldn't hurt me (and I'm past the age of worrying that what I ingest will hurt someone else), I tried it. And it worked. Repeatedly. The number and the severity of my upper respiratory tract infections were drastically reduced, even though I was travelling and visiting young children, two definite risk factors. One year I had none at all. Zero. At the time, I exclaimed to all who would hear, "Maybe it really works, or maybe it's just the Placebo Effect. I don't care. I'm quite willing to pay a dollar a tablet for something that 'doesn't work' but so obviously improves my health."
The Federal Trade Commission disagrees, claiming there is no evidence for the efficacy of Airborne's products, and requiring the company to issue refunds for the price of up to six packages to those who request them. That won't include me. Not only am I not certain that $30 would be worth the paperwork involved, but more importantly, I don't see how I could in good conscience ask for a refund when the product worked.
Even Steven Gardner, director of litigation for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which was part of a class-action lawsuit against Airborne, admitted, ""It is pretty much impossible to prove that it didn't prevent a cold if you don't get a cold." And that's the point. Doctors, lawyers, and the government can worry about advertising claims and scientific proof of efficacy, but my concerns have a narrower focus: if I don't get a cold, that's good enough for me.Speaking of the Placebo Effect, here's an interesting story on how it relates to exercise and fitness.
Last night our neighbors called to ask if we had noticed a terrible odor. They had just returned home after a few hours away and smelled something awful as soon as got out of the car; it was so strong they couldn't tell if it was widespread or localized. We stepped outside of our house and smelled no more than the normal hot-and-humid Florida vegetation smells.
Until we approached their house, that is. We were then hit with what was, indeed, a foul odor. But not, I was certain, a what-died-in-here? odor; it was something chemical rather than biological. Don't get started on the truth that biology is also chemistry; I'd say it was an inorganic smell rather than organic, but that's not true either. I know what I meant, and you would, too, if you'd smelled it. (More)