Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Pitt researchers propose new model to design better flu shots

From the 22 December Eureka news alert

PITTSBURGH—The flu shot, typically the first line of defense against seasonal influenza, could better treat the U.S. population, thanks to University of Pittsburgh researchers.

New research that focuses on the composition and timing of the shot design was published in the September-October issue of Operations Research by Pitt Swanson School of Engineering faculty members Oleg Prokopyev, an assistant professor, and Professor Andrew Schaefer, both in the Department of Industrial Engineering, and coauthors Osman Ozaltin and Mark Roberts, professor and chair in Pitt’s Department of Health Policy and Management. Ozaltin, who is now an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, did his research for the study as a Pitt graduate student in the Swanson School; he earned his Pitt PhD degree in industrial engineering earlier this year.

The exact composition of the flu shot is decided every year by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the decision is complicated.

“The flu’s high rate of transmission requires frequent changes to the shot,” said Prokopyev. “Different strains can also cocirculate in one season, which gives us another challenge for figuring out the composition.”

The Pitt researchers used powerful optimization methods from engineering to examine whether they could improve the yearly decisions made regarding what strains of influenza should be included in the current year’s vaccine. The strains of flu that will be most likely to appear in the regular flu season are not known with certainty, but waiting longer to finalize the composition of the vaccine and observing what strains are occurring in other parts of the world improves the accuracy of the selection. However, the longer the FDA waits to make the decision, the more likely it is that there will be insufficient vaccine produced by the start of flu season. The model developed by the Pitt researchers balances these two important characteristics of the flu selection decision and integrates the composition and timing decisions of the flu shot design….

Read the entire news article

Related Resources

  • Flu (MedlinePlus) with links to overviews, basic information, health check tools, research articles, and more

  • (US CDC and other federal agencies) with links to news articles, prevention tips, ask-an-expert answers, vaccine location finder, and much more
  • Seasonal Influenza (Flu)(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) with links to activity/surveillance map, flu basics, treatment/prevention, info for specific groups, and more


December 23, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

How Bacteria Fight Fluoride in Toothpaste and in Nature

Yale researchers have uncovered the molecular tricks used by bacteria to fight the effects of fluoride, which is commonly used in toothpaste and mouthwash to combat tooth decay. (Credit: © mathom / Fotolia)

From the 22 December 2011 Science News Daily article

Yale researchers have uncovered the molecular tricks used by bacteria to fight the effects of fluoride, which is commonly used in toothpaste and mouthwash to combat tooth decay.

In the Dec. 22 online issue of the journal Science Express, the researchers report that sections of RNA messages called riboswitches — which control the expression of genes — detect the build-up of fluoride and activate the defenses of bacteria, including those that contribute to tooth decay.

“These riboswitches are detectors made specifically to see fluoride,” said Ronald Breaker, the Henry Ford II Professor and chair of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and senior author of the study.

Fluoride in over-the-counter and prescription toothpastes is widely credited with the large reduction in dental cavities seen since these products were made available beginning in the 1950s. This effect is largely caused by fluoride bonding to the enamel of our teeth, which hardens them against the acids produced by bacteria in our mouths. However, it has been known for many decades that fluoride at high concentrations also is toxic to bacteria, causing some researchers to propose that this antibacterial activity also may help prevent cavities.

The riboswitches work to counteract fluoride’s effect on bacteria. “If fluoride builds up to toxic levels in the cell, a fluoride riboswitch grabs the fluoride and then turns on genes that can overcome its effects,” said Breaker…

Read the entire news article

December 23, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Bring Sanity to our Mental Health System

(Comment from Blog owner Janice..

Back in the late 70’s I was in a graduate Community Information program (similar to a library science program..but not accredited by the American Library Association)

My internship was at the local state hospital for the mentally ill. The program I was in had a partnership with the state hospital.
The program set up an information and referral (I&R) center

The I & R center  included pamphlets, brochures, and other handouts in areas the newly released would find handy. I remember social services, food pantries, legal aid societies, health clinics, and churches.

The social workers and other staff, as well as the university program interns, would interview the patients about to be released about their information needs. Then relevant information would be collected from the I & R center and be discussed with the patients.
To this day,  I wonder just how helpful this whole process was..I remember follow up studies were done, but never saw the final reports. Still, patients were being released at an astounding rate, and while not perfect, it did somewhat address the need…
When the university program was abolished in the 80s, I believe the “database” of was all in paper format..eventually went over to the United Way to supplement their information on local agencies)

From  The Center for Policy Innovation Discussion Paper #2

Abstract: Fifty years ago, America began a grand experiment by transferring to the federal government the fiscal responsibility for individuals with mental illnesses. During that half-century, it has become increasingly clear that the experiment has been a costly failure, both in terms of human lives and in terms of dollars. The outcome was, in fact, clear as early as 1984, when the chief architect of the federal community mental health centers program proclaimed it to be a failure: “The result is not what we intended, and perhaps we didn’t ask the questions that should have been asked when developing a new concept….” Bringing sanity to our present mental health system is dependent on one essential change: Return the primary responsibility for such services to the states.

In 1963, the United States embarked upon a grand social experiment. Since the nation’s founding, responsibility for providing services for mentally disabled individuals had been assumed by state and local governments. The new plan proposed by President John F. Kennedy envisioned the closing of state psychiatric hospitals and the opening of federally funded community mental health centers (CMHCs) to provide psychiatric services. This effectively shifted the burden of responsibility from the states to the federal government. The states viewed it as a way to save state funds and effectively ceased their efforts to develop or improve existing services on their own.

Half a century later, the results of this noble experiment are clear. Rarely in the history of American government has a program conceived with such good intentions produced such bad results. The patients were deinstitutionalized from the state hospitals, but most of the 763 federally funded CMHCs failed to provide services for them. The majority of the discharged patients, and those who became mentally ill after the hospitals closed, ended up homeless, incarcerated in jails and prisons, or living in board-and-care homes and nursing homes that were often worse than the hospitals that had been closed….

…The consequences of this failed experiment for mentally ill individuals, for their families, and for the public at large are legion. Mentally ill homeless persons live on our streets like urban gargoyles and expropriate parks, playgrounds, libraries, and other public spaces. Jails and prisons have become progressively filled with mentally ill inmates, thereby transforming these institutions into the nation’s new psychiatric inpatient system….

…here are ways to bring sanity to our present mental health system, but they are dependent on one essential change: Return the primary responsibility for such services to the states. …

December 23, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , | 1 Comment

Two billion men and women in developing countries cannot get essential medicines


Developing countries

Image via Wikipedia Developing Countries

Two billion men and women in developing countries cannot get essential medicines

November 21, 2011 – Two billion men and women in developing countries cannot get essential medicines
Once Every Seven Years World Experts Meet to Discuss Misuse of Medicines in Low- and Middle Income Countries. Eight Indonesian Researchers Attended this Prestigious Meeting.

From the InfoHub Web page

Once Every Seven Years World Experts Meet to Discuss Misuse of Medicines in Low- and Middle Income Countries

  • High medicine costs push 150 million people below the poverty line each year
  • In many low- and middle income countries, one month of life-saving insulin treatment for diabetes may cost half a month’s salary
  • In one Asian country, 42% of medicine costs is spent on bribing the doctors
  • In Oman, misuse of antibiotic use has been reduced by half since 1995
  • Cell phone messages remind East-African AIDS patients to take their medicines

When Catherine Adwoa suddenly fainted and fell ill, her mother first thought she had AIDS. But when she was rushed to the district hospital, she was relieved to hear that that was not the case. The doctor told the 17-year old schoolgirl she had diabetes.

But her father knew immediately that his life would never be the same again. From now on, the daily injections of insulin for his daughter would cost him half his salary. Like in most other African countries medicines for AIDS are free, but treatment for diabetes is not. Hospitals rarely have the injections in stock, so he would have to go around private pharmacies to get the life-saving medicine for the rest of his life, which meant there would be no money left to pay for school fees.

Over 600 world experts on essential medicines met in Antalya, Turkey for the Third International Conference on Improving the Use of Medicines (ICIUM). They heard several similar stories from developing countries from all over the world – how life-saving treatments for malaria are not available in private pharmacies of East Africa; how unscrupulous local manufacturers continue to produce and promote malaria drugs that the World Health Organization has recommended be taken off the market because they lead to resistance; and how 42% of the price of medicines in one Asian country is spent on bribing the doctors.

Delegates from over 80 countries who attended ICIUM also learned that more people in developing countries die from chronic diseases such as hypertension, asthma and diabetes, than from infectious diseases such as AIDS and tuberculosis. Unfortunately very few governments do anything about it.

But there was also good news. The medicines for a year of treatment of such chronic diseases cost less than $6 dollars – provided they are bought as generic (off-patent) medicines and provided the local distributor, the pharmacist and the doctor do not add another 10 or 20 dollars to the price. …

…Special attention was given to the needs of the people in countries of the “Arab Spring” with examples of constitutional text from other countries reflecting access to essential medicines as part of human rights….

…The World Health Organization estimates that about one third of the world’s population – around 2 billion people – does not have regular access to essential medicines. …



December 23, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: