The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that children as young as eight-years-old, who are at risk for heart disease, be treated with drugs to lower high levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol.
According to this report recent research has also shown that cholesterol-fighting drugs are generally safe for children, and that many are already being treated with them. Personally, I question the wisdom of going this route. Wouldn't a life-style change be a better approach? Do we really know the long-term effects of this kind of treatment? And do I have any legitimate medical school diplomas on my wall? Any thoughts on this out in Buzzland?
As the Mississippi flood waters recede, a new threat is rising. Public health officials in Iowa are warning people about the health risks associated with cleaning up their water-damaged homes, farms and buildings. Bacteria thrives in the water, and could lead to a number of diseases, and can contaminate well water. Water-logged buildings are a haven for mold, which can cause serious problems for allergy and asthma sufferers.
Courtesy Stig Nygaard
Two years ago, an article in the journal Science noted that rates of AIDS infection were falling in Zimbabwe, south east Africa, thanks to the “ABC” program. “ABC” stands for “Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms” – three things that help prevent the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. Other countries using the ABC approach, including Uganda and Kenya, also report success in stemming the tide of AIDS.
The report was in the news again lately as Congress debates funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Rep. Chris Smith of NJ cited this and other studies as evidence of the program effectiveness. (An argument for continuing the funding can be found here. )
The program is controversial, however, because it adds a moral dimension to medical treatment. Many aid workers don’t want to be in the position of telling people how to live, or imposing a particular view of right and wrong behavior on another culture. They would rather just treat the disease. OTOH, this particular disease spreads through a particular behavior. Programs that rely exclusively on condoms without any behavioral component have had little success against the AIDS epidemic.
Some people see this controversy as playing politics with a world health crisis. But others take it very seriously. In 2005, Brazil refused to accept US funds for their AIDS program because it came with the requirement that workers try to discourage prostitution. Many aid groups argue that such a provision hurts their ability to reach the people who need help the most. The government argues that discouraging prostitution and sex trafficking makes all kinds of sense when combating an STD.
It would be good to get this sorted out soon, since there is no vaccine against AIDS, and some scientists believe it may be impossible to ever make one.
What do you think? Should aid workers try to combat disease by changing people’s behavior? Or should they just stick to medicine? And should government funding come with such restrictions? Leave us a comment.
Courtesy Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control and PreventionA re-emerging threat
Dengue fever is making a come back in South America and some fear it could become a problem again in the US as well. The year 2007 was an epidemic record-breaking year there was an 11% increase in reported dengue cases when comparing 2006 to 2007. Some even fear it could be spreading to the US. There was a recent article in the Los Angeles Times about it reappearing in the US.
What is dengue fever?
Dengue is a viral infection spread by the predominantly urban species Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. In recent years dengue has become a major international public health concern. Dengue is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world, predominantly in urban and semi-urban areas.
Dengue fever is a severe, flu-like illness that affects infants, young children and adults, but seldom causes death. Dengue haemorrhagic fever is a potentially deadly complication that is characterized by high fever, haemorrhagic phenomena--often with enlargement of the liver--and in severe cases, circulatory failure.
Why is dengue making a come back?
Potential reasons include climate influences like global warming, El Niño / Southern Oscillation and La Niña, both of which influence the intensity and duration of the rainy seasons and hurricanes or induce intense droughts and damage to biodiversity. Another potential cause is population growth and increased opportunities for mosquitoes to breed.
On the other hand, micro factors exist that are dependent on the agent (virus) and the vector (mosquito)—which at times exhibits a growing resistance to insecticides—and the host, all of which closely influence the manifestation of the disease and its more serious forms.
Courtesy NIH/National Institute on Aging
Doctors in California have developed a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, in which patients show tremendous improvement within minutes.
Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain which can severely impair memory, thinking and behavior. The researchers noticed that Alzheimer’s patients have very high levels of a protein called TNF, which is known to regulate brain activity. The treatment involves injecting an anti-TNF drug into the patient’s spinal fluid. The drug, Etanercept, has already been approved by the FDA for treatment of other diseases. The study involved only a small number of patients, but the strong positive results of this early test give hope that an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s could be on the horizon.
NOTE: As always when we discuss medical treatment on Science Buzz, it is important to point out – we are not doctors. We cannot give medical advice, nor should you take medical advice from anyone over the Internet. If you have questions about this treatment, you need to consult your physician.
The Lifeboat Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding solutions to global challenges, has an interesting poll on its blog. Let’s say you had an extra $100 million lying around, and you could spend it to protect the Earth and all its people from the following threats:
How would you distribute the $100 million? You might think all of these issues are important, but you’ve only got so much money. How would you spend it? (You can go to the Lifeboat blog and cast your vote, and see how other people have voted.)
Actually, a similar survey has already been run by Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg. He runs the Copenhagen Consensus, a program which invites world leaders to prioritize their efforts based on what actions would produce the greatest benefits. They found that every dollar spent on health issues, such as AIDS, malnutrition and malaria, produced up to $40 worth of benefits, while money spent on other worthy causes often generated much less.
As for me, I’d also put most of my money on deadly diseases – this is something we know is real. I’d probably also put a chunk on “other” for environmental protection – pollution, deforestation, species loss.
This is not to dismiss all of the other threats. I certainly worry about some crackpot getting a hold of nuclear weapons. But full-scale nuclear holocaust seems a lot less likely now than it did back during the Cold War. Abusive governments? A local problem, to be sure, but not one likely to threaten the planet and all life on it.
The others seem rather far-fetched to me. Global warming? My skepticism over the threat this poses is well-documented elsewhere on this blog, though certainly others disagree with me. Asteroid collision? Happens once every 100 million years or so; killer germs emerge once a generation. Invasion from outer space? Get real – if interstellar travel were possible, wouldn’t the space men be here by now? Nanotechnology turning everything into gray goo? A casual familiarity with nano shows that such fears are vastly overrated. Artificial intelligence ruling the world? They’ve been promising AI since the early ‘60s – I’m still waiting.
My favorite, though, is “Simulation shut down.” Basically, this means that nothing in this world is real – you, I, and everything on Earth are just part of a massive virtual game run on a gigantic computer operated by some intelligent being in another dimension, and we need to prevent him/her/it from turning the computer off. While this would certainly explain a few anomalies I’ve noticed in the Universe (I mean, come on, penguins?), epistemologically, there is no way we could possibly know whether or not this was true. And even if it was, how could our $100 million virtual dollars have any effect on the being running the program?
What about you? How would you spend a theoretical $100 million to save the Earth? Leave a note in the comments.
Cleanliness is next to godliness, but is it possible to have too much of a good thing? For several decades, immunological diseases -- such as hay fever, asthma, diabetes and multiple sclerosis – have been increasing in developed countries, but are uncommon in many undeveloped regions. Medical researcher Joel Weinstock theorizes that modern life is too clean – by scrupulously avoiding dirt, bugs and germs, our immune systems don’t develop properly, leading to the diseases listed above. Weinstock goes so far as to speculate that exposure to hookworm, pinworm, and other intestinal parasites may have been the trigger necessary for developing a healthy immune system. As these parasites have been eradicated, immunological diseases have skyrocketed.
The theory is currently being tested in the lab. Weinstock doesn’t advocate the return of worm infestations. But he does think that getting your hands dirty once in a while can help keep your body in balance.
A new vaccine designed to fight AIDS has failed to show positive results during its first human tests. Researchers hope to learn what went wrong, and use that to make better vaccines in the future.
Biting insects spread all kinds of diseases. (You can learn all about this in the Science Museum’s newest exhibit, Disease Detectives.) Now a scientists thinks they may have also helped kill off the dinosaurs. George Poinar, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University, notes that many insects from dinosaur times have been preserved in amber. Many of them carry microbes that can cause malaria, dysentery and other illnesses. He speculates that these illnesses could have been the major cause of the dinosaurs’ long, slow demise. The asteroid impact / volcanic activity / climate change simply finished them off.
Poinar and his wife Roberta have published a book, What Bugged The Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease And Death In The Cretaceous. In it they also note that, late in the dinosaur era, flowering plants spread rapidly, helped along by newly-evolved insect pollinators. This sudden change in available food may have also played a hand in the dinos’ extinction.
Courtesy Civics OnlineI just finished reading an incredible book about Abraham Lincoln – Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln -- by Doris Kearns Godwin. Of course, it ends with his assassination at Ford’s Theater right after the end of the Civil War.
Much to my surprise today, I come across a headline that at the time of his death, Lincoln may have only had about six months to live due to the effects of a rare type of cancer. Doctor/author John G. Sotos makes the case for Lincoln’s cancer diagnosis in an upcoming book.
One thing that struck me in Team of Rivals, which is written based on thousands of letters and diaries written by Lincoln’s associates during the time he was alive, was that most were first impressed and/or put off by his unusual appearance. Sotos theorizes that those appearances were related to Lincoln’s cancer.
Sotos thinks Lincoln suffered from MEN 2B, a genetic form of cancer that can account for unusual height along with unusual facial features – lumps of nervous tissue on the eyelids, tongue and lips. Sotos also thinks one of Lincoln’s sons died from the same type of cancer
And CSI-type techniques may come into play to see if Sotos is right. A small sampling of DNA is all that ‘s needed to check the condition of chromosome 10 of Lincoln’s genetic code to see if it shows signs of MEN 2B. Samples of his DNA can be collected from any of the many blood-stained fabrics that have been preserved from Lincoln’s death, or from the eight skull fragments that were preserved from the president’s autopsy.
If it is determined that Lincoln had MEN 2B, he’d be the earliest recorded case of that type of cancer. But as news of this theory has spread, there are already other members of the medical community saying that it isn’t possible.
What do you think? Should efforts be made to test some of Lincoln’s remains for MEN 2B? Or should we leave the remains alone and keep it a mystery? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.
If you want to learn more about this, here’s the link to an extensive Washington Post article on the topic.