How ready are U.S. hospitals for Ebola?
The debate over how ready U.S. hospitals are to handle Ebola patients has ratcheted up with the announcement that a nurse who treated an Ebola patient in a Dallas hospital has herself contracted the disease. She had cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who last week became the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S.
After tests confirmed the diagnosis Sunday, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggested that a “protocol breach” had likely caused the still unidentified woman to become infected. But health care and infection control experts told Reuters that hospital staffs need to be better coached through the stages of treating an Ebola patient, making sure they have the right safety equipment and know how to use it properly.
“You don’t scapegoat and blame when you have a disease outbreak,” said Bonnie Castillo, a registered nurse and a disaster relief expert at National Nurses United, which serves as both a union and a professional association for U.S. nurses. “We have a system failure. That is what we have to correct.”
The CDC has published detailed guidelines on how to handle various aspects of Ebola, from lab specimens and infectious waste to the proper use of protective equipment. But how that information gets passed on to hospital staffs and how extensively people are trained to implement it can vary from hospital to hospital.
CDC and Texas health officials said the infected nurse had worn the recommended personal protective gear for Ebola, which consists of gloves, a gown, a mask, and a shield to protect the eyes from possible splatters from the patient. But, according to experts, that gear offers the minimum level of protection for when an Ebola patient enters the late stages of the disease when his or her body produces an enormous amount of fluid. At that point, caregivers need to add more layers of protective gear, such as double gloves and a respirator or a full bodysuit.
The CDC is now considering whether to designate a limited number of U.S. hospitals as regional Ebola treatment centers.
Columbus discovers tobacco: Oct. 15, 1492
Soon after landing with his crews in the New World on the island he names San Salvador, Christopher Columbus meets natives who offer him presents of fruit, wooden spears and “certain dried leaves which gave off a distinct fragrance.” The men eat the fruit, but throw away the leaves.
A few weeks, later, however, while exploring the island that’s now Cuba, a few of Columbus’ crew members observed more natives smoking the same herb wrapped in palm leaves. They learned from the natives that the leaves seemed to keep them from getting tired or hungry. One of the Spaniards, named Rodrigo de Jerez, tried it and liked it, and, in doing so, became the first European to smoke tobacco. He took some seeds–and his new habit–back with him to Spain.
But some of his neighbors became upset at the sight of smoke billowing around his head and reported him to authorities. The Spanish Inquisition ruled that “only the Devil could give a man the power to exhale smoke from his mouth” and sent Jerez to prison for seven years.
However, a Spanish monk named Ramon Pane, who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage across the Atlantic in 1493, also became intrigued with tobacco and wrote lengthy descriptions of how the natives used it, including smoking it in Y-shaped pipes. He took more seeds back to Spain and slowly, smoking tobacco started to catch on.
As early as 1525, smoking was being described as something that could “clarify the mind and give happy thoughts.” By the middle of the 16th century, tobacco was seen as something of a wonder drug, and given to patients as a treatment for headaches, colic, hysteria, hernia, and dysentery, toothache, falling fingernails, worms, bad breath, lockjaw, and yes, even cancer.
There were, however, powerful people who saw smoking as a dangerous trend. In 1604, England’s King James I called it “loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs.” In 1634, Czar Alexis of Russia decreed new penalties for smoking. A first offense resulted in a whipping and slitting of the person’s nose. A second offense brought execution. And, in China, at about the same time, the use or distribution of tobacco was made punishable by decapitation.
But that wasn’t enough to slow its growing popularity in Europe, where most people consumed tobacco in long-stemmed clay pipes and then, in 18th century France, as snuff inhaled through the nose. Opposition to tobacco diminished as it became a bigger part of European economies. In colonial America, meanwhile, it was not only a key to the growing economy, but also a major factor in the burgeoning African slave trade.
Cigars became the tobacco source of choice during the 19th century, followed by a huge cigarette boom in the 20th century, driven largely by the two world wars. Between 1930 and 1979 consumption of cigarettes in the United States almost tripled, increasing from 972 to 2,775 cigarettes per person per year.
In 1930, researchers in Cologne, Germany, made a statistical correlation between cancer and smoking. Eight years later, Dr. Raymond Pearl of Johns Hopkins University reported that smokers do not live as long as non-smokers. By 1944, the American Cancer Society began to warn about possible ill effects of smoking, although it admitted that “no definite evidence exists” linking smoking and lung cancer.
In 1952, Reader’s Digest published “Cancer by the Carton,” an article detailing the dangers of smoking. Similar reports began appearing in other magazines and newspapers and the following year, cigarette sales declined for the first time in more than two decades. The cigarette industry responded by marketing filtered and low-tar brands and sales picked up again.
But in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office came out with its landmark report concluding, in unequivocal terms, that “cigarette smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men” and that the evidence pointed in the same direction for women. The report didn’t mince words. The average smoker, it said, was nine to 10 times more likely to get lung cancer than the average non-smoker.
More slices of history
Untested stimulant found in dietary supplements
Scientists from Harvard Medical School and the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts have discovered that many dietary supplements available in the U.S. contain a synthetic stimulant that hasn’t been tested on humans.
The supplement, known as DMBA, was found in 12 supplement products, although it was listed under a variety of names.
Further investigation indicated that DMBA is similar to a compound called DMAA, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found to be linked to heart attacks. The FDA told manufacturers to stop selling supplements containing DMAA back in 2012, after the agency received dozens of reports of illnesses and deaths that were tied to supplements containing the stimulant.
Manufacturers may have begun to include DMBA in their products to replace the banned DMAA, the researchers reported. The findings, published in the journal Drug Testing and Analysis, revealed that most of the products containing DMBA are marketed as sports or weight loss supplements or brain enhancers.
Currently, the FDA has not taken any action to ban DMBA, but reports indicate that it is now considering next steps. Since manufacturers have not yet stopped making products containing DMBA, and since retailers may still contain such products, experts said that consumers need to be wary of supplements that contain the potentially harmful compounds.
All coffees may be good for liver
Both decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee may help your liver resist disease, according to a new study from the National Cancer Institute.
Previous research has shown that drinking coffee may have numerous health benefits, including lowering risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and liver cancer. In the new study, scientists focused primarily on whether drinking decaf coffee holds the same benefits.
The researchers collected data on about 27,800 people ages 20 and older, which included how much coffee they said they had consumed over a 24-hour period. They also collected blood samples in order to examine the participants’ liver health.
The study’s findings, published in the journal Hepatology, showed that people who reported drinking three or more cups of coffee a day had fewer signs of liver damage or inflammation, when compared with those who drank no coffee. Furthermore, the researchers found that the findings remained consistent whether the participants drank decaf or regular coffee.
Additional studies are needed to determine what specific component in coffee helps protect the liver.
"Giant leap forward" for possible type 1 diabetes cure
In what’s been described as “potentially a major medical breakthrough,” a team at Harvard University says it has sucessfully used embryonic stem cells to cure type 1 diabetes in mice…
Type 1 diabetes is caused by the immune system destroying the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, which differs from the more common type 2 diabetes, which is largely due to an unhealthy lifestyle.
According to a report in the journal Cell, the Harvard scientists were able to tranplant stem cells into the kidney of a diabetic mouse and two weeks later, it showed no signs of the diseae.
For their new technique to work in people with type 1 diabetes, the researchers need to add another component that stops a recipient’s immune system from attacking the 150 million or so stem cells they would receive. They are, however, now working with scientists at the MIT to develop an implant that protects the cells from immune attack.
Study says pot doesn't boost creativity
Most pot smokers will tell you that smoking marijuana makes them more creative. But a team of scientists in The Netherlands say their research suggests that’s just not so.
Working with a group of 59 men and women who said they regularly smoke pot, researchers at Leiden University focused on the thinking abilities of people who consumed marijuana with different levels of THC, which is psychoactive ingredient in pot.
One group was given cannabis with high THC content, another was given cannabis with a low dose of THC and the third was given a placebo. None of the participants were told what they were given.
Everyone in the study was then required to complete a series of cognitive tasks that measured two forms of creative thinking: divergent thinking (coming up with ideas by exploring as many solutions as possible) and convergent thinking (finding the only correct answer to a question).
The researchers found that cannabis with high-dose THC significantly impaired divergent thinking among participants, compared with low-dose THC and a placebo. They also determined that those who smoked cannabis with low-dose THC did not significantly outperform those who smoked the placebo when it came to divergent thinking.