Swine Flu: No Exaggerations Necessary

•May 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As most of the world knows, a new strain of the flu called swine flu or Influenza A (H1N1) has been spread to the United States from Mexico.  

This new strain has not been researched enough to understand or predict the outcome of this new virus, and the World Health Organization has been hinting that a pandemic is possible, which means that the scope could be global.

The flu is an RNA virus that belongs to the family orthomyxoviridae.  An RNA virus may carry their geome as single-stranded (+) or (-) RNA.  Viruses in general use the host’s cellular machinery to produce viral enzymes and other components, since the virus does not have enzymes for key metabolic reactions, such as protein synthesis or energy (ATP) prodution.  In essence, a virus, once it infects a host cell, turns the cell into a factory for producing more viruses. 

Although indiviudals in Mexico are dying and over a thousand people are infected, only one life in America has been claimed by swine flu (a 23-month-old Mexican boy who had traveled to Houston for medical treatment who died on Monday, April 27, 2009).  According to a report from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “federal health officials reported there are now 160 confirmed cases in 21 states, with 13 hospitalizations.”  Also, the scope of the swine flu outbreak in Mexico might not be as great as once thought and the number of new cases there appear to be leveling off.”  

Although the probability of a pandemic outbreak of swine flu is slim, the World Health Organization has said that “there was no evidence of sustained spread in communities outside North America.”  This is important for people to understand, especially for those people who are taking this virus way too seriously.  It’s not exactly yellow fever or rubella that is rampant.  

China has recently taken action to help quarantine the virus.  According to NPR, officials “worked aggressively to track down people who may have been near a sick Mexican tourist, sealing 305 people inside a Hong Kong hotel where he stayed and hospitalizing 15 fellow passengers. The man developed a fever after arriving in the Chinese territory and was isolated in stable condition Saturday.”

Also, the majority of individuals who are at serious risk if they do have contact to the virus are the elderly, the young (as in infants and toddlers), and people who are immunodeficient or who have a debilitating disease such as AIDS, which lowers immunity.  

“The U.S. is taking ‘all necessary precautions’ now to be prepared if the swine flu develops into ‘something worse,’ President Barack Obama said Saturday,” May 2, 2009.

Washing your hands and covering your mouth when sneezing and coughing is integral to the containment of this virus, especially if one is in a hospital or an area with a high density of people.  Hopefully this virus ends promptly and with minimal damage, but one can only hope. 

Here is a video from Dr. Joe Bresee with the CDC Influenza Division describing swine flu and its signs, symptoms and other information.


Brain Structure and its Connection to Autism

•May 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Here is an article published by Scientific American Magazine, which takes an in-depth look at the hills and troughs of the brain, its development and corresponding anomalies, particularly linked to autismclick here

The basic cell unit of the brain is the neuron, which is responsible for receiving and sending electrical impulses to and from the brain.  Neurons allow a person to perceive all things, even emotions.  It can be understood, then, that an individual whose brain is problematic will have problems coping and understanding the world surrounding him or her.  

This is a huge area of concern for today’s physicians, psychologists and social workers.  Many of these professionals work with pharmaceutical companies and their products in order to sustain brain function or at least make an attempt to gain functionality, given that a loss-of-function has occured.  Families and friends of those who are neurologically-impaired understand that everyday is a struggle, and this is exponentially true with every increased degree of intensity.

As more and more research is undergone, hopefully the challenges we face today witness tomorrow’s solutions, highlighting the importance of the health sciences and the medical field in today’s world.  Governments on a global scale must always be willing to fund research, old and new, to maintain a promise to neurologically-impaired individuals regarding the medical attention they need to improve their quality of life.

Swine Flu Pandemic is Possible

•April 25, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A swine flu outbreak in Mexico is causing concern for a possible pandemic within the United States.  

According to the New York Times, “the World Health Organization decided not raise the pandemic alert level in the wake of a swine flu outbreak in Mexico, while public health officials in the United States said they would continue to monitor the virus, which appeared to be spreading.”

Not much is known about the swine flu (H1N1) and its epidemiology, virology and other related clinical features.  “This situation is evolving quickly,” Dr. Margaret Chan, secretary-general of the World Health Organization, said in a telephone news conference. “A new disease is by definition poorly understood.”

Although this disease is evolving rather quickly, only eight cases in the U.S. have been confirmed, while as many as 61 people have died in Mexico in addition to 1,000 others who are infected, according to Mexican officials.

If things do get out of control, “the United States has a detailed pandemic preparedness plan that was written in 2005 during the early years of the scare over H5N1 bird flu. But one person involved in planning said that federal officials were ‘not pulling the trigger on any part of it yet.'”

These events are indeed intimidating, and people should use extreme caution if entering Mexico or interacting with anyone who has recently been to Mexico.  Hopefully within the next couple of days, more information will be leaked as government and health officials are further briefed concerning this sensitive situation and time.


Image by New York Times

Image by New York Times

Cognitive Function is Affected by Architectural Design

•April 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As reported by Scientific American Magazine, how rooms and buildings are designed can have a direct affect on one’s diligence and mood.  This idea stems from biologist and doctor Jonas Salk, who discovered the cure for polio “after traveling to Assisi, Italy, where he spent time in a 13th-century monastery, ambling amid its columns and cloistered courtyards.”  He asserted that the architecture made him come to certain realizations and insights, which were thoughts that were absent when he was working on a cure for polio in a dark basement laboratory in Pittsburgh during the 1950s.  The article can be found here.

This article is also related to how colors can affect one’s creativity and attention.  It has been discovered that the color red improves attention, while the color blue inspires creativity.  An article that discusses this can be found here.

This realization and the fact that architecture can have such a huge affect on cognitive function is a huge area for research for psychologists and sociologists.  It’s also amazing to know that colors and building design has a subconscious affect on the human mind, where this was not an area of concern years ago.  It goes to show that research and human discovery has come such a long way, relative to other areas of research in say environmental studies or marine sciences.  Hopefully these discoveries can be used as a means of treatment for patients with depression or other disorders as more and more people become familiar with its medical/cultural advantages.

Autism Epidemic?

•April 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Statisticians and researchers have recently deduced that a possible autism epidemic is imminent.  “According to widely publicized estimates, one in 166 is now the proportion of children who suffer from autism. This proportion is astonishingly high compared with the figure of one in 2,500 that autism researchers had accepted for decades.”  

Autism is a disorder that appears in infancy.  Most individuals suffer communication barriers amongst a myriad of other social issues.  

The causes of autism are unknown, however there are many studies that are dedicated to unraveling answers.  “Investigators have turned to environmental factors for potential explanations.  The causal agents proposed include antibiotics, viruses, allergies, enhanced opportunities for parents with mild autistic traits to meet and mate, and, in one recent study conducted by Cornell University researchers, elevated rates of television viewing in infants. Few of these explanations have been investigated systematically and all remain speculative.”

With this information in mind, it is important to sift out certain criteria in order to properly diagnose if an epidemic is probable or if there are any intrinsic errors/inconsistencies.  The causation for autism is highly unknown, so it is very difficult to pinpoint any real cause for an increase, even if that increase is immense, in incidence.  A larger net must be casted if any real results with real, objective relevance is to be taken into account.  More systematic research, for example, with large, varied sample sizes must be incorporated in order to minimize any intrinsic errors.  

The point is that there is an issue at hand and the children of America are at risk.  Therefore, research for this type of severe disorder must be funded, either federally or privately, to ensure that this does not become more prevalent and result in a more grave situation.  

The article by Scientific American Magazine that discusses this in much more detail can be found here.  

Indian and American Healthcare Dichotomy

•April 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

India and the United States are two of the most influential countries in the world, however the level of care via the medical professionals in the two are sharply contrasting.  Stony Brook University student Maheshawar Jani commented that there isn’t much of a “healthcare system” over in India because of the lack of enforced law.  This is a very different outlook on the way people view the politics of healthcare as opposed to the United States, which is very systematic in its approach.  

The United States also has flaws, despite being a superpower.  The United States houses the fastest growing ethnic population of Spanish/Latino individuals, yet these people are also ranked number one in the amount of uninsured.  The problem with these numbers is that many of these indiviudals are aliens that are not registered to live legally within the United States.  Hence, many of them are hesitant to become a legal resident, therefore acquiring healthcare is last on the list.  This leaves the possibility open for an infection to transform into an illness, and the emergency room of many hospitals feel the pinch as an effect of this hierarchy of events.  This is a serious domestic dispute that raises many issues dealing with immigration, homeland security, foreign policy, healthcare ethics and politics amongst others.  

The United States, India, and just about every other country, developing and otherwise, is becoming increasingly globalized (or Westernized depending how one interprets the picture).  The main dispute is how to deal with this changing environment in which everyone is being subjected to.  There aren’t any real clear answers at this point in time, but there are opinions.  There isn’t any legislation shining a spotlight on any resolutions either, but there is social networking and other forums being utilized to discuss them on a digital interface.  The world is changing, and the time is ripe for the healthcare systems that bind people together to improve the overall quality of care to catch up.

To help offer some insight into some real people commenting on their experiences, here is a short video that I constructed pertaining to the different healthcare systems in both the United States and India.

Kathleen Sebelius is Not Much More Innocent

•April 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Kathleen Sebelius, Gov. of Kansas who is the latest installment to the Health and Human Services Secretary position for the Obama Administration, has paid back taxes that she had failed to pay in earlier fiscal years.

The total amount was close to $8,000, with $7,040 in back taxes and $878 in interest.  According to the New York Times, Sebelius commented that she and her husband, Gary, have paid up “after discovering ‘unintentional errors’ in their tax returns for 2005-7.  Ms. Sebelius said she had erroneously taken tax deductions for certain mortgage interest and several charitable contributions,” reports the New York Times.

Although tax issues have been a thorny consistency for many nominees and staffers within the Obama administration, it seems that Sebelius’ tax issues have not been put on the spotlight.  According to the Washington Post website, “In a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday, [April 2 2009], no mention was made of Sebelius’s payment of back taxes.”  This comes as a shock for most individuals since there was such an emphasis on the former HHS nominee, Tom Daschle, and his tax problems.  Tom Daschle owed more than $140,000 in back taxes and interest for 2005-2007 and he withdrew from the HHS nominee position because of this.

It seems as if Obama officials and nominees and the Internal Revenue Service are archrivals.  When Ms. Sebelius came on board, it was seen as a victory for the U.S. health care system because of the promise that this woman held.  When it was disclosed that she ALSO had failed to pay taxes because “she and her husband mistakenly claimed a mortgage deduction and did not have proper paperwork for a few charitable contributions,” it makes me wonder.  I’m not imposing that she isn’t well-qualified for this strenuous and challenging position, but yet again this unfolding information underscores the lax vetting process that the Obama administration has exercised ever since Obama’s inauguration.  

The United States health care system needs to be revamped, and trivial distractions such as failure to pay back taxes from the person running the show is highly unnecessary.  There is so much going on right now within this revamping process, and a major issue is how to pay for it.  The Health Care Reserve Fund has recently been proposed by the President, which will include taxing the economically affluent of society to fund this process.  As mentioned by the Washington Post, other areas offered by lawmakers include “whether the restructuring of the U.S. health-care system ought to include a new government-sponsored insurance plan for people who have difficulty buying private coverage.  Several Republicans expressed reservations with the idea, particularly if it allows the government to set payment rates.”

I am close to positive that Kathleen Sebelius is the woman for the job, but the sloppy vetting process that has admitted her to this position is an all-too-often theme in the Obama administration.