medicine


Speaking as someone who has done it, I can say with some degree of authority that quitting smoking completely sucks. You’re on edge all the time, you snack constantly, you have nothing to do in the morning before you use the bathroom, and perhaps most galling, you have to work through an entire day without a series of ten minute breaks. Like a Normal.

This is why no one ever quit smoking because they wanted to. Instead, the main reason people quit smoking is Fear of Chronic Disease. Which is a perfectly reasonable fear, mind you, and thus a perfectly rational reason to quit smoking.

Unless quitting smoking also makes you significantly more susceptible to a DIFFERENT chronic disease.

As it turns out, this is exactly the case. According to a Johns Hopkins study recently released in The Annals of Internal Medicine, breaking the habit can raise a person’s chances of developing Type II Diabetes by up to a staggering 70%. The heightened risk is tied to the aforementioned snacking and weight gain often associated with giving up smoking.

The researchers point out that this weight loss, and the diabetes risk tied to it, can be tempered by seeking help from a doctor while quitting. But at this point, we have to ask ourselves – do we really want to live in a world where everyone is short-tempered, on a diet and under the constant supervision of a doctor?

I think we call all agree that this is a scenario in which the living would envy the dead.

Advertisements

Hey, everybody, while world leaders were busy hanging out in Cophenhagen and pretty much being the biggest non-story of the year, we got ourselves a health care bill!

Granted, we don’t have a perfect health care bill. We don’t have the health care bill that I would have asked for in a perfect world. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a strange, imperfect, and often downright unpleasant world. And we got a strange, imperfect, and occasionally downright unpleasant health care bill.

But you know what? It’s a start. And despite what some people would argue, people who I sympathize with and whose frustration I understand, it’s much, much better than nothing.

But the Senate legislation, which shouldn’t have much of a problem clearing the next few cloture votes it has ahead of it, does still have some questions to answer. For example – will insurance companies be required to provide coverage for new and terrifying genetically engineered bacteria like this one?

So you know that HPV vaccine, the one that protects young women against a commonplace sexually transmitted virus that is causally related to more than 90% of cervical cancer cases? Turns out it may also help prevent certain types of breast cancer, which were found to contain HPV cells in a recent Australian study. Which begs the following very reasonable question: if the HPV vaccine has such potential to prevent suffering later in life, why are so many doctors in the United States loathe to innoculate young women with it?

While saying that the reason is ignorance or prudishness may be over simplifying the matter… it also may not. Gardasil is the latest vaccine to be taken out to the pseudo scientific woodshed with hysterical anecdotes and unpleasant but unsubstantiated tales of woe managing to drown out the reams of scientific data that say Gardasil is safe. While numbers of adverse reactions are statistically tiny, the web is replete with horror stories linking Gardasil to seizures and paralysis. There is, of course, no proven link between the tens millions of doses of Gardasil that have been administered and any symptoms more severe than fainting and blood clotting in tiny numbers of patients. While these potential side effects are serious and physicians should no doubt watch for them, side effects both real and imagined are being used more and more to spook young women and their parents into not getting the vaccine, or at least putting off the decision to vaccinate.

This wouldn’t be a problem, except that the three shot Gardasil regimen is only effective in preventing HPV – not in treating it, which is why all three shots have to be administered prior to sexual activity. This means the longer young women put off getting the vaccine, the less likely it is it will be effective.  And while the Moral Majority complains about the vaccine promoting promiscuity and teen sex and conservative doctors wring their hand and look for reasons not to administer the vaccine on right wing blogs when they can’t find any in medical journals, the FDA has approved Gardasil for use in young men as well to prevent them from carrying or spreading the disease, and from suffering the penile cancer that it is linked to later in life.

Good news for everybody who doesn’t have A/H1N1 swine flu yet -recent studies suggest that just one low dose of the vaccine could stop you from contracting the highly contagious but so far mostly mild strain of flu. Isn’t that awesome? Now instead of dying in your sickbed, you can live to see the total collapse of society brought about by legions of sniffling rioters who didn’t get vaccines.

Sure, it’s a mixed blessing, but look on the bright side – at least you won’t fall victim to some filthy animal disease.

Nanoparticles may be the next big thing in science and medicine, but they suffer from one serious hindrance – they’re not terribly utilitarian. Nanoparticles are very mission specific, and every scientists want to create a particle for a new purpose – like doing imaging work, or heating up to destroy a tumor from the inside – they pretty much have to start from scratch.

But researchers at the University of Washington have taken the first steps in developing an all purpose nanoparticle, that can accomplish a number of tasks. They’ve engineered a particle that combines the qualities of a quantum dot, used for fluorescent imaging, and a gold nanoparticle, used in scatter based imaging and also capable of heating up and destroying tumor cells from the inside.

This dynamic duo of materials working in conjunction could represent a significant advance in the use of nanoparticles for health care and, down the line, in solar energy production, and that’s great news. But seriously people, there’s good news for health care, and then there’s too much of a good thing, and frankly, folding DNA particles into weird origami shapes is just goddamn showing off.

Today’s good news from the world of pathology – no one has to be worried about swine flu anymore!

The bad news? It’s because drug resistant TB is going to kill us all before we even have the chance to develop a case of pig induced sniffles.

Though rates of tuberculosis are falling across the world (that’s good!), longer lasting, more persistent strains of the disease are continuing to crop up at an alarming rate due to inconsistent or incorrect antibiotic treatments (that’s bad!). Though transmission rates in these drug resistant strains remain low for now (that’s good!), it would only take one  nasty, drug resistant strain like the ones currently common in Cuba and Estonia becoming widespread to cause serious loss of life around the world.

That’s bad.

Virologists at the University of Wisconsin – Madison have completed a detailed study of the H1N1 swine flu virus, and the news is…well, it’s less than good.

The virus, which has demonstrated a filament shape unusual in flu viruses, has the potential to be much more severe than most researchers have thought so far. That’s because, in addition to being more apt to reproduce itself within lung tissue, the H1N1 virus has demonstrated an ability to infect cells deep within lung tissue far beyond that of a standard seasonal flu virus.

This capacity for infiltrating further into the lungs distinguishes the H1N1 virus, according to researchers, including study leader Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who stated that “There is clear evidence the virus is different than seasonal influenza.” Where most flu viruses only affect the upper respiratory system, the H1N1 bug can go much deeper, bringing about pneumonia, bronchitis and possibly death.

The truly unnerving thing to note about this study, published this month in the journal Nature, is that the ability to penetrate deep into the lungs is something we’ve seen before. The trait was also expressed in the 1918 flu pandemic that killed tens of millions worldwide. The fact that people born before 1918 seem to have antibodies against the H1N1 swine flu further suggests that we’re looking at a flu virus whose closest corollary wiped out significant swaths of humanity almost a century ago, when passing flu from one community to another was significantly more difficult.

In other words – this could be a bad one. And while most people seem to have stopped worrying about it, I’m staying at a Level Orange Alert (at least while we still have one) on the matter of a swine flu pandemic. Not every disease du’ jour is going to be the next big thing in global health crises (see also, SARS, bird flu, West Nile virus) but eventually, something is going to break big, and the current H1N1 strain is a pretty likely candidate for doing some real damage. Add to that the fact that a serious outbreak (deaths, high fear of contagion, etc.) during  flu season in the US this year would deliver a hammer blow to a global economy still struggling to get it’s feet, and set back progress on that front at a time we can ill afford it?

Sound like a worst case scenario? It is. But it’s not at all one that’s outside the realm of possibility right now. And I know I may sound unreasonably doom and gloom, but hey, a paranoid is just someone who has all the facts, right? I’m not saying the sky is falling, but the common consensus seems to be that this thing is no cause for concern, an I just don’t buy that line.

The study does have a silver lining, in that anti-viral drugs seemed to be an effective first line of defense against the virus. But with a working vaccine probably unavailable until the end of the year, they’re also the only line of defense at this point.

Next Page »