Medical Diagnosis Without Electricity
One of the great problems facing the worldwide fight against contagious diseases is obtaining a rapid and accurate diagnosis.
Often, the only solution is to send samples to distant laboratories that have advanced diagnostic capacity requiring electricity and computers. Diseases can spread rapidly while waiting for the results.
Now there is a new device that works without electricity or computerized databases, and can fit in the palm of your hand.
In Singapore, scientists have developed a biodetection system based on a nanostructured surface of localized surface plasmon resonance.
The scientists replaced a spectrum analyzer (the gold standard for decades) with 4 LEDs (light-emitting diodes), each with different emission spectra. DNA, proteins, and cells are then detected according to their interaction with light in specific patterns (Neuzil P, Palm-sized biodetection system based on localized surface plasmon resonance, Analytical Chemistry, August 2008).
This device can operate without electricity or computers, making it incredibly advantageous for field work and small villages.
World Health News: Safer Produce
Commercially available produce can be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli, then distributed widely.
One way to help clean produce is commercial washing. Food plants frequently use flume water washing, but this method can make controlling bacteria difficult.
A new study shows that the addition of chlorine dioxide to flume water kills only 90% of the disease-causing bacteria.
In contrast, a commercially available produce wash (FIT) containing natural ingredients like grapefruit extract and citric acid, kills 99.9999% of the bacteria in flume water almost instantaneously.
Out of a million bacteria, chlorine dioxide would leave 100,000 alive while FIT leaves only 1 alive.
In addition, FIT does not have the same risk for plant workers as chlorine (Park et al, Efficacy of FIT produce wash and chlorine dioxide on pathogen control in fresh potatoes. Journal of Food Science, June 2008).
Many liquid soaps with grapefruit extract and citric acid are available for home use from your local health food store.
World Health News: More news about Salmonella
The recent Salmonella outbreak in the United States has been traced to contaminated tomatoes or jalapenos. It has infected over 1000 people in more than 340 states.
One of the ways Salmonella causes food poisoning is by using proteins to invade the cellular walls of the stomach and intestines. However, once this happens, our immune systems begin fighting the bacteria.
Now researchers have found a new protein in Salmonella called AvrA that stabilizes our intestinal cell wall and avoids alerting the immune system (Liao AP, Salmonella type III effector AvrA stabilizes cell tight junctions to inhibit inflammation in intestinal epithelial cells. PLoS ONE, June 2008). This allows the bacteria to increase in numbers safely for a longer time, leaving us with a larger, more dangerous infection to fight.
There are many ways to protect ourselves from Salmonella infection, with good sanitation practices at every level from farm to dinner table.
Here's some additional ways that green tea could help fight Salmonella infections.
World Health News: Will Nanotubes Increase Cancer Risk?
Carbon nanotubes are built from graphite. They are one atom thick and rolled into cylinders.
Considered the miracle material for 21st century electronics, they are stronger than steel and lighter than plastic. Currently they are available in a variety of shapes. Their usefulness is expected to create markets worth billions of dollars.
But are they safe?
Some scientists have been concerned about nanotubes that are long and thin because of their structural similarity to asbestos, the miracle material of the 20th century.
Asbestos was used massively throughout the world for its insulating and fire protection qualities. Even though reports of early death from asbestos exposure had been reported for over a thousand years, it was not until after World War II that reports of a malignant cancer called asbestos lung mesothelioma began to surface.
Over the last few decades, we have learned that fatal mesothelioma cancer can take decades to develop and is primarily associated with asbestos fibers that are long and thin.
Now researchers have done a preliminary study testing long thin needlelike nanotubes to see if they could have similar effects as long thin asbestos fibers.
The answer is yes, they could.
In an animal study, researchers found that long thin nanotubes created the same kinds of initial inflammation and cellular damage as asbestos (Poland C, Carbon nanotubes introduced into the abdominal cavity of mice show asbestos-like pathogenicity in a pilot study, Nature Nanotechnology, May 2008).
While not conclusive, previous studies support this result. Short or curly nanotubes have not shown the same kinds of cellular damage.
Since nanotubes will be a part of the lives of most people in the future, scientists are hoping to manage the production and use of this product in ways that will avoid the exposure and deaths created by asbestos.
World Health News: Protect Mothers From PCBs
PCBs (a group of polychlorinated biphenyl chemicals) are a man-made environmental toxin. Exposure to PCBs is associated with increased cancer, and interference with immune and reproductive function.
A new study examines not only immediate response to PCB exposure, but multi-generational response.
Pregnant animals were exposed to low levels of PCBs. While reproductive markers were altered in the first generation (exposed in utero), it was the second generation after exposure that showed the most reproductive changes.
The granddaughters of the exposed animals had substantially suppressed luteinizing hormone and progesterone compared to their unexposed mothers or exposed grandmothers. They also had smaller ovaries and lower uterine weights, all of which interfere with normal reproduction (Steinberg RM, Effects of perinatal polychlorinated biphenyls on adult female rat reproduction: development, reproductive physiology, and second generational effects, Biology of Reproduction, June 2008).
PCBs were used for coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment. They were manufactured heavily between 1940 and 1980. Because of their persistence, they are still one of the top "Dirty Dozen" man-made toxins to be phased out in the Persistent Organic Pollutants International Treaty.
One of the most contaminated areas are the Great Lakes of North America.
You can reduce your exposure to PCBs by eliminating older electrical equipment, construction materials, and by reducing animal fat in your diet, where PCBs accumulate.
World Health News: Tuberculosis Increases In UK
There were 8000 new tuberculosis cases in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 2006.
Increases in drug-resistant tuberculosis were as high as 7.9%.
Researchers reviewed data between 1998 and 2005 with 28,620 confirmed cases. Increases were related to immigration, prison transmission, and drug misuse.
At this time, they concluded that multi-drug resistant tuberculosis was due primarily to patient mismanagement, rather than direct transmission (Kruijshaar M, British Medical Journal, May 2008).
However, until we develop better procedures, any increase in drug resistant TB can lead to increased transmission.
Tuberculosis is still one of the great human pandemics.
What's the news on green tea and tuberculosis? Check here.
World Health News: Coal Mining And Public Health
While it has long been known that coal miners have increased risk of lung diseases, now a new study finds that overall public health is worse in coal mining communities.
Researchers studied West Virginia health information and compared it to coal production. They statistically removed the influence of poverty in coal mining areas, as well as higher smoking rates, and less access to health care.
They found that communities with the greatest coal production had 70% increased risk of kidney disease, 64% increased risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as emphysema, and 30% increased of high blood pressure.
Hospital records confirm a 1% COPD increase for every 1462 tons of coal and a 1% increase in high blood pressure cases for every 1873 tons of coal produced.
This health impact on non-mining community members may be from diesel equipment, explosives, airborne dust from coal trucks, coal-processing chemicals, or other toxins (Hendryx M, Relations between health indicators and residential proximity to coal mining in West Virginia, American Journal of Public Health, April 2008).
This study is consistent with other reports from Appalachian coal mining areas, as well as studies from Japan and Italy.
World Health News: Spy In The Sky On Cholera
It turns out that satellites are good candidates to predict cholera outbreaks.
Scientists have been able to define relationships between ocean surface temperatures and surface height and subsequent cholera outbreaks. Cholera lives in plankton that live in bays and rivers around the world. Outbreaks occur when people drink contaminated water or eat undercooked shellfish and shrimp from contaminated water.
With predictive models showing reliable relationships between temperature and height of the ocean and the growth of cholera-contaminated plankton, people only need accurate information about the ocean to prepare public health warnings and facilities for a future outbreak (Colwell R, Society for General Microbiology, April 2008).
Satellites can give us accurate ocean measurements for the whole world, not just developed countries.
As people continue to travel for business and enjoyment, information from satellites can help improve everyone's travel safety.
World Health News: Nano Nixes Mad Cow
A new nano-sensor could lead to a less expensive and more reliable blood test for Mad Cow Disease. At this time, Mad Cow Disease and scrapie in sheep are diagnosed from the animal brains during autopsy.
Scientists have developed a nano-mechanical resonator array that measures frequency changes associated with the binding of prion proteins (Varshney M, Prion protein detection using nanomechanical resonator arrays and secondary mass labeling, Analytical chemistry, April 2008).
Abnormal prion proteins clump together and destroy brain tissue leading to rapid death in animals and people. There is no cure at this time.
Extensive research from the outbreak in Great Britain in the 1990's, demonstrated contagious aspects to the prion diseases.
The human form of abnormal prion disease is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
The current system of waiting for beef producers to report early animal symptoms and limited US government testing has led to occasional massive recalls.
A reliable blood test could lead to inexpensive testing practices that might be used widely, helping to avoid expensive meat recalls.
World Health News: World AIDS Day
Over 33 million people are infected with HIV worldwide. While the death rate is decreasing in some areas where drugs are available, the number of new infections is still high--2.7 million last year according to UNAIDS.
Many solutions are not implemented because of cultural, financial, or technical problems (e.g. bone marrow transplants are not available en masse).
However, research continues in some areas of investigation that may help ameliorate HIV or AIDS.
A human trial with high-selenium yeast supplementation found that the selenium intake was associated with decreased progression of HIV viral load and protection of CD4 immune cells. This was a double-blind 9-month study (Hurwitz, B, Suppression of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 viral load with selenium supplementation: a randomized controlled trial, Archives of Internal Medicine, January 2007).
Another selenium study recently found that selenium-containing proteins reduce HIV replication.
Researchers added sodium selenite to infected cells and found that HIV replication was reduced 10-fold compared to infected cells without added selenium (Kalantari P, Thioredoxin Reductase-1 Negatively Regulates HIV-1 Transactivating Protein Tat-dependent Transcription in Human Macrophages, Journal of Biological Chemistry, November 2008).
These studies and green tea HIV studies are still preliminary, but may offer hope as adjunctive therapies for better management of HIV.
Here's more HIV research
World Health News: All Roads Lead To Rome
Finally, we have some evidence about the value of all those bans on smoking in public places.
In Rome, researchers compared the heart attack rate for five years prior to their public smoking ban and for one year after the ban.
For people age 35 to 64, there was a significant 11.2 percent decrease in acute coronary events like heart attacks, and for people age 65 to 74, there was a significant 7.9 percent decrease.
This improvement occurred even after considering other factors like air pollution and particulate matter, flu epidemics, seasonal temperature, hospitalization rates, and time trends.
Since the smoking ban, indoor particulate matter decreased significantly from 119 ig/m3 to 43 ig/m3.
The benefits were greatest among men who reduced their smoking from 34.9% to 30.5% and among lower socioeconomic groups.
Women only reduced their smoking from 20.6% to 20.4%.
The results suggest that both a reduction in active smoking and a reduction in passive second-hand smoke exposure were involved in preventing acute and potentially life-threatening coronary events.
While the elderly (over age 75) showed no change, the researchers suggested they may spend more time at home.
The greatest effect was seen with people who worked and used public places (Cesaroni G, Circulation, 2008).
The smoking ban in Rome included offices, retail shops, restaurants, and disco clubs among public places.
Now, when you return to Rome, you can be healthier, too.
Here's more news about your heart health.
World Health News: The Importance Of Washing Your Hands
Looking for an easy way to save lives? Encourage people to wash their hands.
A new review of worldwide studies of health interventions found that teaching people to wash their hands might improve health outcomes as much as access to clean water.
Hand washing interventions in high income countries reduced diarrhea incidence by 29% and reduced diarrhea incidence in low income countries by 31% (Egemot R, Cochrane Library, 2008).
Waterborne diseases like cholera, that lead to diarrhea and death, have been scourges of mankind throughout history. According to Dr. Olivier Fontaine of the World Health Organization, diarrhea still kills more children than AIDS and malaria combined.
In many cases, cultural beliefs had to be influenced, such as the belief that infant feces are harmless.
Developing countries still need to acquire sanitary infrastructure, and developed countries need to maintain safe sanitation.
But a lot of good things can happen with plain soap and water.
World Health News Alert: Strong FDA Recommendation Against Infant Cough Medication
Previously, government agencies have recommended caution about using over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children under the age of 6.
Now the FDA has issued a Public Health Advisory (January 17, 2008) strongly recommending that OTC cough and cold medicines including decongestants, cough suppressants, antitussives, expectorants, or antihistamines not be used for children under age 2 because of serious and fatal side effects. At least 123 deaths in children have been associated with decongestants and antihistamines.
They also recommend that for children under age 11, parents contact their health care provider prior to treatment for colds or coughs.
A recent study on honey for childhood coughs showed that a small dose of buckwheat honey at bedtime provided more relief of coughing and better sleep than an OTC medicine. Honey has been used for thousands of years and is considered safe for children.
Adults may want to consider gargling with green tea which may lower their risk of infection.
Frequent hand washing with plain soap and water (for both adults and children) is one of the best ways to reduce transmission of infection in the house.
World Health News: What Would You Do For The Poor?
The Public Library of Science asked 30 global health experts to name one intervention that would improve the health of people living in poverty around the world.
Many selected health training for local people, others chose eliminating hunger, providing clean water, vaccinating children, or building houses (Yamey G, PLoS Med, 2007).
Some responders seemed to give a bit of emphasis to conditions they knew best.
So I wondered, what one intervention for health would I want for the poor?
Naturally I thought about bringing tea to the world.
Then I remembered that the world already has tea. Tea has been around for up to 5000 years of human history, and today over four billion people, approximately 2/3 of the world's population, will have at least one cup of tea. Tea is already universally available and so inexpensive in most areas that even poor people can enjoy it some of the time.
Then I thought about making sure all water for tea was clean. Of course, my next thought was "why stop there?" Let's get clean water, clean soil, and clean air while we're at it.
But like many people, I am bewildered with the complexity of achieving a totally pristine environment.
So what did I choose?
Finally, I had to agree with one contributor, Rosebell Kagumire in Uganda who said "There's a saying that when you educate a woman you have educated a whole village." Education and empowerment of women historically seems to enhance civilization which usually improves living conditions for everyone.
I'm happy with my answer. But what about you?
On this last day of the western year 2007, what would you do for the poor of the world?
World Health News: More Birth Defects In Shanxi
Along with increasing breast cancer, China has reported that the national rate of birth defects increased almost 50% during the last five years.
Some areas with birth defect rates higher than the national average include coal mining areas in Shanxi Province.
Increasing demand for industrialized energy has led to expanded coal mining in China, with expected consequences like pollution and habitat loss.
The underground mining operations have used dynamite and destroyed existing homes aboveground (IHT, 2007). Water supplies are polluted, air pollution travels globally, and underground fires cannot be stopped--releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Coal mining is also dangerous for the miners. China produces 35% of world coal, but has 80% of mining fatalities (ChinaDaily, 2004).
Pollution may cause up to 400,000 premature deaths in China. And until we all can think of a better solution, we all may have to pay the price.
Ten days after air pollution from coal mining is created in China, it reaches the West Coast of the United States and supplies 20% of the toxic mercury found in fish caught in Oregon's central Willamette River (Oregon Ecology, 2007).
World Health News: More Breast Cancer In Shanghai and Beijing
China, the country that gave the world green tea, has seen a dramatic increase in breast cancer among urban women over the last decade.
Shanghai has seen a 31% increase, and Beijing reports a 23% increase in breast cancer since 1997.
Chinese urban women are using their increasing affluence to add more fat and junk food to their diets. In addition environmental pollution and increased stress may be factors (Youlin Q, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, 2007).
As of the mid 1990's, Asian countries had the lowest in breast cancer incidence and mortality in the world. Industrialized nations, particularly in Europe had the highest incidence of breast cancer mortality.
These differences had been attributed by some researchers to the cultural use of daily green tea in Asia, with supporting laboratory research and demographic studies.
But with increasing unhealthy lifestyle choices in China, the Chinese people may see not only increased breast cancer, but other problems.
World Health News: Green Tea Tuberculosis Research Update
Dr. Misra of Lucknow University, India, recently presented more studies on green tea fighting tuberculosis infections.
Green tea extract administered to tuberculosis-infected mice caused toxins, a side effect of tuberculosis infection, to drop and antioxidant levels to return to almost normal levels.
Previous studies have shown that green tea helps reduce the growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Current research is laboratory-based only, and is considered preliminary.
Tuberculosis, one of the great pandemics of humanity, is becoming even more feared recently because it is now multi-drug resistant and is infecting AIDs patients.
World Health News: Tuberculosis Added To HIV Pandemic
Approximately 14 million of the 40 million people with HIV/AIDS also have multi-drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis or extreme drug resistant (XDR) tuberculosis.
In sub-Saharan Africa, half of all new HIV/AIDS patients are co-infected with TB.
Some areas in South Africa have seen drug resistant tuberculosis increase by 600% just between 1996 and 2004.
Along with malaria transmitted by mosquitoes (vectors), tuberculosis transmitted through the air and HIV transmitted through sexual and blood/needle contact, are the three most deadly contagious diseases for humanity in our time.
World Health News: New Hope For Bangladesh Environmental Catastrophe
59 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh are currently experiencing severe arsenic contamination in drinking water from tubewells. Hydrologists are still disputing the causes for the recent contamination, including diversion of rivers.
Now there is a study showing that folate or folic acid, part of the vitamin B complex, reduces total blood arsenic levels.
Participants from Bangladesh were given folic acid which increased methylation of arsenic, allowing for greater detoxification within the blood and easier excretion (Gamble M, American Journal Clinical Nutrition, 2007).
Folic acid can be obtained from nutritional supplements, or by eating dark green leafy vegetables, beans, and whole grains.
Arsenic poisoning can be fatal. Symptoms range from pain, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, confusion to cancer, liver and kidney failure, seizures, coma, and death, among others.
Arsenic contaminates drinking water in over 70 countries around the world including widespread areas of the U.S, and affects over 100 million people.
Some other sources of arsenic include rat poison, some pesticides, metallurgy, and tobacco smoke.
World Health News: Bird Flu Getting Worse
The avian flu virus H5N1 first appeared in Hong Kong in 1997. Since then it has circled the globe many times, rapidly evolving.
At first, it only infected birds in filthy and crowded poultry farms. Then it moved into migrating species. Then it became contagious from poultry to humans.
Now we have human-to-human transmission.
A new study has identified a single change in a viral protein that would allow H5N1 bird flu to infect the human respiratory system, allowing it to spread through the air human-to-human without resistance (Kawaoka Y, Public Library of Science Pathogens, 2007).
As the avian flu virus continues to evolve, it may become efficient in transmission among people. This could create a global pandemic because people will have little resistance to the new viral strain.
In addition, researchers around the world are working with genetically modified strains of H5N1 bird flu with facilitated transmission in order to develop vaccines (December 2011). However, safety is an issue because these strains could be used for other purposes.
So far, no drug research has come up with a definitive solution, and research into natural prevention is limited by lack of funding.
But there is hope.
A preliminary study I previously reported showed that green tea chemicals called catechin polyphenols effectively protected red blood cells when infected by a strain of avian bird flu.
World Health News: "Thy drugs are quick." Romeo and Juliet
A new study shows that changing national and international policies on the most toxic pesticides might reduce world suicides.
Where pesticides are easily available, young people will use them during a crisis to poison themselves impulsively. Pesticide self-poisoning may account for over a third of the world's suicides in Asia. It is also the method used by financially burdened farmers in India.
A study in Sri Lanka followed suicide rates from 1950 to 2005. Suicide rates increased eight-fold from 1950 to 1996.
In 1996, Sri Lanka changed their pesticide import and sales regulations.
From 1996 to 2005, the suicide rate was reduced by 50%.
Other factors such as unemployment, divorce, war, or alcohol misuse were not associated with this decline. Only pesticide availability was associated with the reduced suicides (Gunnell D, International Journal of Epidemiology, 2007).
Products grown without pesticides are available in most parts of the world for people who wish to reduce pesticide dependence. Among food products, choosing certified organically grown may reduce pesticide consumption. Having your own garden or knowing your local farmers also helps.
Since pesticides may concentrate in fat, avoiding high fat foods may be another good choice.
World Health News: Ocean Oscillation + Rainfall = Disease Prediction
French researchers have developed analytical tools that show relationships between climate change and cholera epidemics.
Cholera is a rapid and severe intestinal infection with up to 50% fatalities. It occurs naturally and is usually spread through contaminated water.
Now, by combining the Indian Oscillation Index (IOI) with annual rainfall records, researchers have discovered a predictable 3-5 year cholera cycle (Institut de Recherche, 2007).
This work can enhance local community preparation for epidemics. It may also be useful in predicting epidemics of malaria, dengue fever, and emerging diseases from global warming.
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