Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Florida’s Penchant For Eating Armadillos Has Triggered A Leprosy Outbreak [Reblog]

My Peace Corps Liberia site (1980/81) was 10 miles away from a “leper colony” at a Methodist Mission.
Most of the residents were men with their families. Many made a living wood carving. How they did that with many of their finger extremities was incredible.  Bought quite a few carvings before I left, 2 or 3 commissioned.  Was never afraid of getting leprosy, was told during our Peace Corps training it took 17 years or so of very close contact.

Woodcarver (with leprosy) with finished carving

 

madonna  Madonna – commissioned for about $25, (“market rate”)

3carvings

Women with baby pounding rice (dehulling); hair pic (yiddi-fa); Madonna

From the 23 July 2015  UPPROX post  

shutterstock_83394460

If you’re a nerd like me, you’re fully aware that only two animals can contract leprosy: Armadillos and humans. This is an excellent reason to stay away from armadillos, but Floridians apparently never got that memo.

Why, you might ask, are Floridians handling armadillos? Well, you know the old joke about how armadillos exist to give Texans something to eat on the half-shell?Nobody explained that was a joke to Florida’s population. We’re not kidding: Shooting and eating armadillos is, for some reason, common enough in Florida tobecome a public health problem.

Just to underline how bizarre and dumb this is, leprosy is incredibly hard to get. Ninety-five percent of humanity is naturally immune to it, thanks to dormant versions of the virus being effectively everywhere, and you can only get it through prolonged contact with somebody who has it. Even then, it’s an exceptionally slow virus; you can have it for decades before you show any symptoms. Similarly, armadillos are very shy and hard to trap, so it’s not like they’re up in our business.

The good news is that leprosy is currently very treatable with multi-drug therapy techniques. Now, the shame of gunning down an ugly-cute animal and eating it, there’s no treatment for that except shame. Work on exporting shame to Florida is ongoing, and we hope to have the first treatments soon.

 

Read the entire post here

July 28, 2015 Posted by | Health News Items | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News release] Psychedelic Drug Use Could Reduce Psychological Distress, Suicidal Thinking

Major rethink in order for some of us, including me? Or is the jury still out, so to speak. Perhaps a major rethink of some substances in light of the emerging role of personalized medicine.
Personal flashback to 1979 and Peace Corps training in Nashville TN. We were housed in motel rooms during our 1 1/2 month stateside training. One evening I returned to my room, where my two roommates were lounging. One told me the other was tripping on LSD (it had come to her on the back of the postage stamp from a mailed letter from a friend). Well, I about lost it, I had smoked (but not inhaled!) some marijuana once, but my perception of LSD was that it, well, took control of you and made you do things you wouldn’t normally do. The other roommate told me I just had to accept it. I said I didn’t have to and left the room for a few others and hung out with other volunteers. I was well, a bit scared that if the roommate was caught or reported, I could get kicked out of the Peace Corps program. Well, we never talked about the LSD, and had about 3 weeks to go in the program. And we all managed to get along fairly well after this incident. Stayed home while I attended college, so I guess this was a version of college roommate “drama”.

 

From the 9 March 2015 Johns Hopkins news release

FAST FACTS:

  • U.S. adults with a history of using some nonaddictive psychedelic drugs had reduced likelihood of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts, according to data from a nationwide survey.
  • While these psychedelic drugs are illegal, a Johns Hopkins researcher and study author recommends reconsidering their status, as they may be useful in treating depression.
  • Some people have serious adverse reactions to these drugs, which may not stand out in the survey data because they are less numerous than positive outcomes.

 

The observational nature of the study cannot definitively show that psychedelics caused these effects, Johnson says, because those who chose to use psychedelics may have been psychologically healthier before using these drugs. However, the results probably reflect a benefit from psychedelics — the study controlled for many relevant variables and found that, as the researchers expected, other drugs assessed in the study were linked to increased harms, he says. The use of nonaddictive psychedelic drugs may exacerbate schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders and can sometimes elicit feelings of anxiety, fear, panic and paranoia, which can lead to dangerous behavior, Johnson says. But these instances of individual harm, while serious, may not stand out in the survey data because they occur less often than the positive outcomes that some people experience.

“Our general societal impression of these drugs is they make people go crazy or are associated with psychological harm, but our data point to the potential psychological benefits from these drugs,” he says. Current research at Johns Hopkins and several other universities is examining the therapeutic potential of one of the psychedelics, psilocybin, when administered in carefully controlled, monitored medical studies.

Related article

No link between psychedelics and mental health problems

The use of psychedelics, such as LSD and magic mushrooms, does not increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems, according to an analysis of information from more than 135,000 randomly chosen people, including 19,000 people who had used psychedelics. The results are published today in Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Nature and Lancet

Nature published a news item on this research yesterday, March 4: http://www.nature.com/news/no-link-found-between-psychedelics-and-psychosis-1.16968 Lancet Psychiatry will publish a companion letter to this study by Teri Krebs, “Protecting the human rights of people who use psychedelics.”

Few or no harms

Clinical psychologist Pål-&Ostroke;rjan Johansen (http://www.EmmaSofia.org) and neuroscientist Teri Krebs (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) used data from the US National Health Survey (2008-2011) to study the relationship between psychedelic drug use and psychological distress, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts. The researchers found no link.

Johansen and Krebs previous population study, which used data from 2001-2004, also failed to find evidence for a link between psychedelic use and mental health problems.

“Over 30 million US adults have tried psychedelics and there just is not much evidence of health problems,” says Johansen.

“Drug experts consistently rank LSD and psilocybin mushrooms as much less harmful to the individual user and to society compared to alcohol and other controlled substances,” adds Krebs. In contrast to alcohol, psychedelics are not addictive.

Possible benefits

Johansen and Krebs found that, on a number of measures, the use of psychedelic drugs is correlated with fewer mental health problems. “Many people report deeply meaningful experiences and lasting beneficial effects from using psychedelics,” says Krebs. However, “Given the design of our study, we cannot exclude the possibility that use of psychedelics might have a negative effect on mental health for some individuals or groups, perhaps counterbalanced at a population level by a positive effect on mental health in others,” adds Johansen.

Psychedelics and human rights

“With these robust findings, it is difficult to see how prohibition of psychedelics can be justified as a public health measure,” Johansen argues. Krebs adds that the prohibition of psychedelics is also a human rights issue: “Concerns have been raised that the ban on use of psychedelics is a violation of the human rights to belief and spiritual practice, full development of the personalty, and free-time and play.”

March 10, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How mobile is transforming healthcare: Report

Immediately thought of my Liberian FB friends, a nurse and dean at a community college, a healthcare screener upcountry in a small town (my Peace Corps site back in 1980/81), and a Methodist deacon (one of my former students). All went above and beyond the call of duty during the Ebola crisis.
Back in 2009 I participated in a service project group in Liberia. Was taken aback by noticing that at least half of those over 18 seemed to have cell phones. Believed this was quite good. The roads overall are pretty bad, unpaved, and nearly impassible during the 3 month rainy season. So the cell phones really keep people connected, and relay information well. I get rather irked when I read comments (FB, editorials, etc) that say poor people should not have cell phones. Well, I strongly disagree, overall I believe they save money (think transportation costs for many information needs at the least!). How arrogant for some of “the haves” to believe “the have nots” are not using their scarce resources wisely.
Not sure what I can do to advance mobile health in Liberia, but I will do what I can.
Thanks for posting this, I have forwarded this to my Liberian FB friends. Most likely stuff they already know. The deacon obtained his PhD in theology in DC, the nurse/deacon is very aware of technology, and the healthcare screener is from Nigeria and has a good education and is very much a world citizen.

ScienceRoll

The Economist came up with a report about How mobile is transforming healthcare including infographics and analyses. You can download the report here.

According to a new survey, mobile technology has the potential to profoundly reshape the healthcare industry, altering how care is delivered and received.

Executives in both the public and private sector predict that new mobile devices and services will allow people to be more proactive in attending to their health and well-being.

These technologies promise to improve outcomes and cut costs, and make care more accessible to communities that are currently underserved. Mobile health could also facilitate medical innovation by enabling scientists to harness the power of big data on a large scale.

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February 7, 2015 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Richer countries have safer roads

This brought back memories of a road accident in Liberia back in 1980. It was late at night in a rural area.  Three of us (all sober!) were returning home after a Christmas get-together.  The main highway (a dirt road, barely two lanes) was unlit, as all rural roads are, even if they are main highways.  The driver swerved to avoid an accident, an oncoming car was straddling the middle of the road (not uncommon).  Our Chevy truck rolled over at least twice down a steep embankment. I was nearest to the door on the passenger side. My leg went out the open window. The truck landed on its side, and my leg was pinned underneath the truck.

A bus stopped. Several passengers came down the embankment. By that time Ann (a fellow Peace Corps volunteer) who was in the middle, and the driver (a Malaysian ex-pat who was managing a nearby farm) had got out the truck.  They raised the truck, and I pulled my numb leg out out. Miraculously my leg was not broken. (Could it be the gravel absorbed the shock?)
I did have some nasty gashes on the inside of my right thigh, and it was bleeding some.  The window had only been partially rolled down.  So the glass had shattered and ripped some of my flesh.

Somehow I got up the embankment with help.  We went into the bus, which did a U-turn and took us to the hospital, about 10 miles away.  Found out later, this was the second time the bus had stopped to pick up an accident victim and transfer them to a hospital. No ambulances in the country that I know of.  [Just realized, we never gave the bus driver any money to cover his expenses, or properly thanked anyone, some of the passengers probably had two hours tacked on to their travel time.]

Anyways, I got stitched up (about 34 in the leg, another 8 or so around my right elbow). Thankfully no complications. Although when I do go hiking, I have to use a walking stick when going downhill.  Word traveled fast about the accident in the Peace Corps community. Several weeks later I got a letter from the Peace Corps nurse (at HQ- 120 miles away) to get down to her office.  Didn’t want to go, I was healing fine,  and it meant a 5 hour taxi ride over bumpy dirt roads, but went anyway where I got chewed out royally.  Well, I got X-rayed. Confirmed nothing was broken, and the other tests also confirmed what I knew – that I was OK.  The nice thing- Peace Corps paid for my travel and medical expenses when I went down to HQ.

From the 29 October 2013 Michigan News press release

ANN ARBOR—Wealthier nations, whose residents own a majority of the world’s vehicles, have the lowest roadway fatality rates, say University of Michigan researchers.

In a new study on road safety in 170 countries, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the U-M Transportation Research Institute found that the average fatality rate per million vehicles is 313 in high-income countries, 2,165 in middle-income countries and 6,040 in low-income countries.

Further, the average percentage of pedestrian deaths out of all roadway fatalities is lower in high-income nations (21 percent) compared with middle-income (31 percent) and low-income (35 percent) countries.

Using data from the World Health Organization on countries with populations of at least 100,000, Sivak and Schoettle examined differences in road safety based on gross national income per person: high (more than $12,275), middle ($1,006 to $12,275) and low (less than $1,006).

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 7.44.14 AM

“The goal was to identify relevant commonalities that may assist in the creation of road-safety policies common to countries at a similar level of development,” Sivak said.

The researchers also found income-level effects for 31 aspects related to institutional framework, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users and post-crash care.

According to the results, low-income countries are less likely to have national road-safety strategies; standard vehicle regulations; laws on the installation of safety belts, airbags and electronic stability controls; laws on the use of safety belts, child restraints, motorcycle helmets and mobile phones; strict driver penalty systems; effective drunk driving enforcement measures; universal emergency access phone numbers; and policies to promote walking, cycling and public transport.

Interestingly, maximum speed limits on rural roads and near schools tend to be lower in low-income countries, but the effectiveness of speed-limit enforcement is higher in high-income countries.

Related Links:

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘One Billion Hungry’ Peak Missing From New FAO Numbers‘One Billion Hungry’ Peak Missing From New FAO Numbers

The article seems to point out that progress is probably being made in addressing world hunger, despite problems with reporting and statistical “number crunching”.  Still, hunger is directly related to government policies (as subsidizing export crops).

From the 10 October 2012 article at the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development

A revised estimate of the number of hungry people in the world was released yesterday, classifying 870 million as undernourished between 2010-12. Missing from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s figures was any reference to the one billion mark that the agency had claimed was reached in 2009 due to high food prices and the economic crisis. The new report cited a change in methodology and improved data as reasons for the shift…

..

Finding that there are 132 million fewer people hungry in 2010-12 than 1990-92, the report insists that the Millennium Development Goal of halving the prevalence of hunger in developing countries by 2015 is within reach if the trend continues.

The share of undernourished people in the developing world has fallen from 23.2 to 14.9 percent over the aforementioned 20 year period. Achieving the MDG would mean cutting that number to 11.6 percent, while current projections suggest that 12.5 percent is possible…

..

Those directing policy interventions, he argued, must know who the malnourished are, where they are located and when they are malnourished to be effective.

Gains made between 1990 and 2007 have since stalled due to the impact of the global economic slowdown. The report calls for safety nets for the most vulnerable, along with broad-based economic growth – particularly in agriculture – as a way of reducing the number of hungry.

SOFI cautions that growth in the agricultural sector, if policies fail to focus on crops grown widely by smallholders or those vulnerable to hunger, is not sufficient to improve food security. It cites Tanzania as a particular case where export-oriented cash crops, such as cotton and tobacco, received government research and extension support instead of assistance that is more directly tied to undernourishment – maize, root crops, pulses, and oilseeds…

The new SOFI paints a picture of global hunger that has gone from a worsening situation to a “steady improvement,” Svedberg observed in an exchange with Bridges. This has turned the “hunger problem” on its head, he added. Older estimates showed the hunger condition deteriorating, while the new numbers suggest that things are improving or stable…

————————————————————————————————————————————–

Policy extends to a country’s infrastructure. For example, if roads are not in good condition, this leads to an increase in food prices.
I am a Facebook friend with a nurse in Liberia (met during a 2009 service project trip with the Friends of Liberia).  Recently he remarked on how much prices are increasing overall on consumer goods. This didn’t surprise me because of images I’ve seen within the past few months on Liberians roads, which are mostly dirt ..turning to almost unsurpassable mud during the 3 month rainy season.

While the UN commendably is working on improving road conditions, the problem remains for the present.
A few pics and images.
(Back when I was in Liberia as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 80’s, I was only on the road once or twice in similar conditions.
Not sure why it is worse now, perhaps an increasing population and/or greater demand for goods).

This was taken about 15 miles from where I was stationed while in the Peace Corps. To be honest, I don’t remember ever being this bad.
Click here for related article.

Excerpts

“The road condition is causing serious shortages of basic goods around Tappita, Saclapea, Bahn as well as other towns and villages around Ganta,” said one of the local traders.

The bad road condition has caused transportation fares from Ganta to Tappita to go up to L$ 1200 from L$ 600 recently,” he added.

The bad road condition has also stalled movement from Ganta to Sanniquellie answer as far as the Loguatuo border in the Gbehlay Geh District

..

Harrison Wongbay, a store owner in Ganta and member of Ganta Trade Union proclaims, “Nimba County comes second in revenue collection in Liberia and in terms of food production again, Nimba is number one.  So [we don’t understand] why this piece of road between here and Gbarnga cannot be rehabilitated.”

“Because of this piece of road, he added, “truck owners are charging heavy fees to transport our goods to Nimba from Monrovia.”

If you search YouTube with the phrase Liberia roads, the results will include..

 

October 21, 2012 Posted by | Nutrition | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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