Stories tagged public health

May
04
2008

China hopes to do the right thing

With the upcoming Olympics, China is in the spotlight. The Chinese Health Ministry, scrambling to fend off cover-up allegations, issued a nationwide alert Saturday over a virus that has killed 24 children and sickened more than 4,000 others.

Enterovirus-71 can be deadly

In milder cases, EV71 can cause cold like symptoms, diarrhea and sores on the hands, feet and mouth. But more severe cases can cause fluid to accumulate on the brain, resulting in polio-like paralysis and death (the journal Genetic Vaccines and Therapy). Public health officials expect the number of cases to peak in June or July. There is no effective antiviral treatment for severe EV71 infections, and no vaccine is available. This disease also has broken out in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam, although no deaths have been reported there.

Cover your coughs and wash your hands

The viruses mainly strike children aged 10 and younger and is easily spread by sneezing or coughing. A public awareness campaign is ongoing, stressing the need for good personal hygiene, mostly by hand washing.

Sources: CNN and Los Angeles Times

The World Health Organization today declared Somalia "polio free." (The last case of polio in the country was reported March 25, 2007; there hasn't been a single infection in the last year.) Health workers wiped out the disease by repeatedly vaccinating all 1.8 million Somali children under age 5.

Polio is extremely contagious and hard to eradicate, and Somalia's achievement is even more amazing given the country's challenges: war, poverty, hunger, no central government, and a lack of detailed medical data.

One more thing: the BBC article linked to above contains this quote from Ali Mao Moallim, a volunteer health worker who also happens to be the last person on Earth to have contracted smallpox:

"Somalia was the last country with smallpox. I wanted to help ensure that we would not be the last place with polio, too."

Awesome.

Jan
23
2008

Working better and better: Statistically, our hearts are getting better and better. The rate of heart-related deaths is dropping faster than goals set by by national health organizations.
Working better and better: Statistically, our hearts are getting better and better. The rate of heart-related deaths is dropping faster than goals set by by national health organizations.Courtesy wikipedia
Here’s something to strengthen your heart in advance of Valentine’s Day. Nationally, our rates for heart attack and stroke deaths have dropped faster than the pace national health organizations hope we’ll be at in 2010.

Over the period from 1999 to 2005, heart disease deaths dropped 25.8 percent while stroke deaths dropped 24.4 percent. That means that 160,000 people are still alive today who statistically would have likely died from heart and circulation trouble in the past year. If those rates continue, we’ll have an extra 240,000 people living a year from now who in past years would have died from heart ailments.

However, while our hearts are getting healthier epidemics continue on the diabetes and obesity fronts. And health problems associated with those factors could offset the decreased deaths from heart troubles.

The National Center for Health Statistics released the analysis of these health findings, but didn’t issue any causes for the changing mortality rates. So I put it to you, why are people having better heart health? Better diets? Decreased smoking? More exercise? Share your thoughts here with Science Buzz readers.

Nov
19
2007

Vaccinations required: Prince Georges County officials in Maryland are backing up vaccination requirements for school students there by threatening to put non-complying parents in jail.
Vaccinations required: Prince Georges County officials in Maryland are backing up vaccination requirements for school students there by threatening to put non-complying parents in jail.Courtesy cooling
How far should government authorities go in requiring parents to have their school-aged kids properly vaccinated? It’s a question that’s been kicked around here before on Science Buzz, but last weekend, the ante was upped on this matter in Maryland.

Prince George’s County officials summoned parents and the kids needing shots to court on Saturday. The choice was simple: get updated on the shots on the spot at a clinic set-up at the courthouse or that parents could spend ten days in jail.

Authorities decided to get real serious on the matter after discovering more than 2,000 students in the county were still lacking their required vaccinations.

Parents also had the option of providing the proper paperwork at the courthouse to show that their kids did, indeed, have the proper shots that they needed.

The message did get through fast. Even before Saturday’s court session, more than half of the students needing vaccinations had received their shots. At the courthouse, 101 more students received shots while another 71 produced papers showing they had previously received the proper shots.

So far, no prosecutions have been made on families that have failed to get the shots. According to the plan, students who don’t have immunizations will be expelled from school until they get their vaccinations and their parents will face truancy charges in court, which could lead to a ten-day jail sentence.

Among the maladies that students need to vaccinated for are polio, mumps and measles along with high school students being vaccinated for hepatitis B and chicken pox.

So what do you think? Is this too harsh of a way to encourage public health compliance? Or is it the proper motivation to get people to take care of a needed job? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Jul
10
2007

Pass it on: What rights do people with communicable diseases like tuberculosis -- shown in a microscopic enlargement above -- have when coming into contact with the public?
Pass it on: What rights do people with communicable diseases like tuberculosis -- shown in a microscopic enlargement above -- have when coming into contact with the public?
Are you like me, kind of in a fog about what really is the big deal about the guy with tuberculosis (TB) who recently flew on a trans-Atlantic flight?

Well, I’ve been digging around a little bit, and in my humble opinion, here’s why we do need to spend some time thinking about it.

Andrew Speaker flew to Europe this spring after having a diagnosis for an extensively drug-resistant form of TB. That information had been passed on to a federal agency, but it didn’t take any action to block his flight plans, or notify other passengers on the plane, that he would be sharing a long plane ride with them. Subsequently, it was discovered that he actually has a much milder form of TB.

But the question is, what role if any and how aggressively should government agencies be in notifying others that someone they’re in close contact has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition?

The Monday morning quarterbacking has been going on for weeks on the Speaker case and there is no clear-cut verdict.

Regular TB is treatable in about 95 percent of the cases. But special, stronger forms of TB, such as first thought with Speaker, are harder to reign in. His situation

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control say that a diagnosis for TB can take up to two months, plus even longer if it is a harsher form of TB, like first thought with Speaker. In his situation, once authorities found out he had been on a long, international flight, all of the passengers in the plane were notified and encouraged to be checked out for TB in themselves.

TB authorities say that was the proper way to handle the situation. And in light of the reduction of Speaker’s severity of TB, it might have been just right. But what if it had been the worst-case form of TB, which was thought at the time he took the flight. Should he have been allowed to fly at all?

And that’s just one form of communicable disease. Are there other conditions you’d like to know are present in fellow travelers, co-workers or other people you come in close proximity to? Do we all assume the risk of catching various medical problems when we live in a free society? Share your thoughts on this issue here with other Science Buzz readers.