Testing It Up

Beware of Swine Flu Scammers!

It is disheartening to note that while most of us are concerned about swine flu and there a some out there who are currently suffering from it, there are others who are out to make an extra buck out of someone else’s panic, fear or misery.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has issued a warning against web sites and e-mails that are out to scam people out of hard-earned cash under the guise of being of assistance towards keeping swine flu at bay. The BBB reported an unprecedented sudden increase in web activity, which includes the registration of domains, which are normally indicative of scams. Hundreds of new sites that have “swine flu” in the URL have cropped up. There are also reports of spam e-mails being sent out that claim that Madonna and other celebrities have contracted swine flu, and within these e-mails are links to online pharmacies.

negative stain of the swine influenzaThe effects of these scams may include the downright selling of items at ridiculous prices that your don’t really need – such as a “Swine Flu Survival Kit” that includes nothing more than latex gloves and a mask. One site reportedly offers “Swine Flu Formula” composed of 100 veggie capsules with Vitamin C, olive leaf and cat’s claw extract. Another would be identity theft, as scammers take advantage of credit card and other personal information provided by a consumer. There are also those who reportedly go as far as offering swine flu vaccine – when we know very well that there isn’t any. And even if there isn’t any case yet, a technical bug such as a computer virus that can be spread via e-mails with “swine flu” as a subject may not be far behind.

The best way to protect one’s self from these scammers – as if it wasn’t enough that we needed to protect ourselves against swine flu in the first place – is to keep one’s self informed so that one does not easily get swayed by schemes such as medicines and vaccines. Be wary of e-mails from sources you don’t know, and never trust “new medicines” and such announcements. Stick to reliable online sources when doing your reading or making medical purchases.

April 30, 2009 at 8:56 am Comments (0)

State of the Air 2009: Are You Breathing In Clean Air?

The verdict is in – the American Lung Association has released the State of the Air 2009 report. So, who are taking in a breath of fresh air and who are not?

Two types of air pollution are monitored: particle and ozone pollution. Their levels are used as the basis for ranking metropolitan areas. For particle pollution, rankings are divided into year-round or annual average levels and short-term or 24-hour levels. Particle pollution refers to pollution due to pollutants composed of soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols. Ozone, on the other hand, is a gas that is formed as sunlight reacts with pollutants such as car emissions.

air pollutionThe cleanest U.S. city for ozone air pollution is Billings, MT, followed by Carson City, NV and Coeur d’Alene, ID. The most populous city among the top ten cleanest cities for ozone air pollution is Honolulu, HI, with a population of more than 900,000. Honolulu also ranks third among the top cleanest cities for long-term particle pollution.

In contrast, Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, with a population of more than 17.7 million people, is ranked as the most ozone-polluted city in the United States, followed by Bakersfield, Visalla-Porterville and Fresno-Madera. The 4 most ozone-polluted cities are all in the state of California, and Los Angeles has held this ranking nine times over the last decade. The New York-Newark-Bridgeport area, distributed among the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania with a population of almost 22 million people, is ranked 17th. They are tied with the St.Louis-St. Charles-Farmington area in Missouri and Illinois.

Reuters UK estimates that 6 in 10 Americans – estimated at about a total of 186 million people – live with the dangers of air pollution. This is despite the fact that it has been almost 4 decades since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970.

Los Angeles Health Screening

April 30, 2009 at 4:55 am Comments (0)

Swine Flu Outbreak — Are You Prepared?

We all know it all too well by now – the United States is one of the countries with confirmed swine flu cases. But what exactly is being done about it at this time?

Isn’t there a flu vaccine available? Yes, there is, but not for this one. The good news is that the CDC and the WHO are working on one, but it will probably take months before a vaccine will be available. If you had a flu shot recently, it will protect you from the more common human flu strains but not from swine flu. So be careful just the same.

Can we still eat bacon?If swine flu is from pigs, does it mean I can’t eat pork? No, you cannot get swine flu by eating food that come from pigs, such as pork and bacon.

How bad is this outbreak really? So far, it looks like the United States has been lucky – the swine flu cases here have been mild. The thing about a virus is that it is so unpredictable and can easily change, so there is no assurance that it will not become more dangerous than it is. This also means that it can go both ways and become milder than it is at this time, at least in the U.S.

How is swine flu treated? Swine flu is being treated with two drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza. It has been determined that the virus is sensitive to these two drugs, and that they are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms. In the United States, though, the first people with lab-confirmed swine flu recovered without the benefit of treatment, which means that the two drugs are not needed by everyone.

As of now, swine flu cases have spread outside of North America and Mexico, with confirmed cases in Europe. There are no confirmed cases in Asia, but there are people quarantined in New Zealand and Asian countries such as South Korea are on the alert, with flyers prepared and distributed for the information of their citizens.

Countries in Europe have announced various plans of action such as ensuring that they have Tamiflu and/or Relenza available for a certain projected percentage of their population and tightening of screenings in airports.

April 29, 2009 at 4:16 am Comments (4)

Swine Flu – Let’s Get Down to Basics!

While no one wants to simply dismiss the issue of swine flu – the number of cases and the wide cross section of places to which it has spread does merit attention and concern – it is also important to keep calm and to not blow the situation out of proportion. The best way to do this is to arm one’s self with the appropriate information regarding this disease. Here are things that might help you breathe easier and look at swine flu from a more academic point of view, thanks to WebMD and Google News.

swine fluWhat is swine flu? If we humans get sick with the flu, so do pigs, and both flu types are caused by a virus. The swine flu virus is different from that which usually infects humans and this virus normally does not infect us. In rare cases in the past when human infection did occur, it was with people who had direct contact with pigs. This time around, though, even people who did not have any contact with pigs have become infected.

How do I know that I have it? The symptoms for swine flu are just like that of any other bout with flu you’ve had. It will take a lab test to determine if you have swine flu. So if you do get symptoms and you recently went on a trip to a high-risk area such as Mexico, or have come into contact with someone who has, then it is best if you consult a doctor.

What should I do to protect myself and my family? Follow the tips we have given the past couple of days. Swine flu spreads just like any other flu – you can pick it up directly from an infected person or by touching an object that a sick person recently touched and then touching your own eyes, nose or mouth afterwards. This is the reason why people are encouraged to make hand washing a habit – which you need to do anyway, pandemic or otherwise.

The virus itself is not airborne, but if someone who has it coughs and sneezes without covering his or her mouth, then germs are sent into the air. Which is why people are encouraged to sneeze or cough into a tissue that can immediately be disposed of. Into your hands is not a good option, for the reasons we discussed in the preceding paragraph.

Let us take a breather — hopefully, the air is not infected – and discuss more about this on the next post.

April 29, 2009 at 2:10 am Comments (0)

PSA Screening: To Test or Not to Test?

Two of the country’s leading groups of experts in prostate cancer seem to be at opposing ends when it comes to the issue of prostate cancer screening.

The American Urological Association released a revised set of guidelines for men with an average risk of prostate cancer. The new guidelines now call for baseline PSA blood testing for this group to start at age 40, with succeeding testing to be determined on a case to case basis. This sets baseline PSA blood testing a decade earlier than originally recommended; the old guidelines used to set recommended testing age at 50.

prostateWebMD quoted Peter Carroll, MD, a urologist who served as the chairperson for the committee that revised the guidelines, said that the change was in recognition of the fact that “an abnormal PSA at a young age” is strongly indicative of future prostate cancer risk. He adds further that prostate cancer testing should be a procedure that men of any age can choose to undergo, along with the recommendation of his physician or urologist.

This is the opposite of the recommendation of the American Cancer Society, who no longer recommends routine PSA screening for men. What they now encourage doctors and their patients to do is to carefully weigh the potential benefits of undergoing testing versus the risks before deciding on a course of action. This is the result of recent studies regarding prostate cancer testing that indicated that screening had no positive effect as far as saving lives is concerned, and may even do more harm than good.

The ACS thinks that the new guidelines from the AUA may lead to more screening and, eventually, overtreatment of men who will not benefit from the procedures. The same sentiment was shared by a scientist from the National Cancer Institute according to WebMD. Barnett Kramer, MD, MPH, shared that the revised guidelines seems to ignore the “latest and best research” on the issue.

April 28, 2009 at 9:48 am Comments (0)

Swine Flu Updates: World on the Alert

As we continue to watch developments regarding swine flu, we could not help but heave a sigh of relief at the same time. While it may be true that there is a cause for concern, concern at least does not have to equal panic. To quote the World Health Organization, it looks like everyone is more prepared to handle situations such as this now more than ever.

Cases are still spreading, though. Canada has confirmed cases, and the first confirmed case in Europe was reported in Spain. Scotland also has confirmed cases, while suspected cases in Brazil, Australia, Israel and New Zealand are awaiting confirmation. Health ministers of countries within the European Union met and discussed the ongoing situation. Mexico and the United States are both under Public Health Emergency status, and everything is being done to address and treat those who have contracted swine flu. The good news is that while there have been fatalities there are those who were able to recover; the US has a milder strain than the one in Mexico.

symptoms of swine fluThe World Health Organization has even recommended that efforts to contain the spread of the virus be abandoned, as this is no longer feasible due to the fact that the virus has spread to various locations. But at the same time, the fact that they do not recommend the closure of borders or the implementation of travel bans is a bit reassuring, although airports and other travel hubs all over the world are being extremely careful and are taking all precautions possible to control further entries of the virus into their respective areas.

There are other adverse effects due to the situation other than those affecting people’s health, though; stock markets are taking a hit, although the stocks of drug companies are having a field day.

For now, remember our tips from our post yesterday. Cough or sneeze into a tissue that you immediately throw away; if you do not have a tissue, sneeze into your elbow instead of your hand. Wash your hand frequently, with soap and water when available, with hand gels if not. If you are sick, stay at home; if it is your kids, then keep them home from school until they have recovered.

The flu drugs Relenza and Tamiflu are being used to treat swine flu.

April 28, 2009 at 6:48 am Comments (0)

U.S. Declares Public Health Emergency Due Swine Flu Concern

Yesterday, the United States declared a state of public health emergency amidst rising concern about the swine flu virus. The announcement was made by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who said further that this is standard operating procedure that will enable the country to take the appropriate steps to prepare itself despite the fact that there will be no way of knowing for sure how big and severe this outbreak will be at this time.

swine fluThe Department of Homeland Security will be releasing 25% of stockpiled anti-virals – Tamiflu and Relenza – to the states as part of the emergency declaration, according to a report from WebMD.

The following recommendations were also released:

  • Stay at home if you are sick
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • Keep yourself well-informed about health news in your community
April 27, 2009 at 6:30 am Comment (1)

Contaminated Water Source Allegations Anger Illinois Village Residents

Some of the residents of Crestwood, Illinois, are outraged. If the findings of an investigation published in the Chicago Tribune earlier this month are to be believed, then it would mean that village officials have been knowingly drawing drinking water from a contaminated well for more than two decades.

contaminated waterA community meeting was called to discuss these alleged findings last Saturday. Mayor Robert Stranczek was there, as were more than 200 village residents. The Mayor insisted during the meeting that the town’s drinking water was safe. “The water is safe today, will be safe tomorrow, and will be safe into the future,” Stranckzek insisted. Whether everyone believed him is a hanging question; those who attended Saturday’s meetings had mixed reactions.

The controversy began with a story run by the Chicago Tribune on April 19. It exposed the fact that apparently Crestwood officials knew all along that there was a contamination in the well. State environmental officials had warned them as far back as 1986 that dangerous chemicals related to a dry-cleaning solvent have contaminated the water. Back then, officials told state regulators that they will only use the well as back-up and buy treated water from Lake Michigan – but village records show that they did not exactly do that. There were times that the village relied on the well for up to 20% of its drinking water.

This may be another case of nothing is too good to be true. Crestwood was once touted as the “best-run town in America”, and they offered the cheapest water rates in Cook County. But critics are indicating that the only reason the water came cheap is that they regularly used contaminated water so that they do not have to purchase everything.

It was not until December 2007 that the well was shut off completely after the EPA tested the water. It was the first time they did so in twenty years. The reason why there was such a long interval is that the village had already stated that they will not be using the well for reasons other than backup, which meant that there was no need for the water to be tested regularly.

The story caught me off-guard. If we cannot trust officials, then who can we trust? Maybe, to be sure, we will need to proactively test our water, if we cannot trust our leaders to be up front with us about these things.

Chicago Drug Screening

 

April 27, 2009 at 2:16 am Comments (5)

Farewell to Golden Girl Bea Arthur

Growing up, one of the comedies I loved to watch – on the rare occasions that I was allowed to turn on the TV – was “The Golden Girls”. Why a pre-teen loved to watch a group of old ladies in Miami live their lives still escapes me, but there was something so endearing about those four dames that simply had me glued to the show.

Bea ArthurArthur’s death was announced by her personal assistant of six years, Dan Watt. Watt said that Arthur died a peaceful death – she had been suffering from cancer.

I distinctly remember Beatrice Arthur as Dorothy having witty and sarcastic exchanges not only with her roommates but with her own mother, played by the late Estelle Getty.

Arthur’s first successes were on Broadway, and she has a Tony Award to prove it. Even if she started her TV career rather late in life by today’s standards – having started in the early 70s when she was 50 with the All In The Family spin-off Maude – she won over the hearts of many and became a beloved TV icon.

She is survived by her sons and granddaughters.

Miami Health Screening

April 27, 2009 at 12:30 am Comments (0)

A Mosquito Bite for Painless Glucose Testing?

According to ScienceDaily, a group of Electrical Engineers from the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary has patented a rather novel new device, which will undoubtedly be good news for all diabetes sufferers out there who have to suffer through daily pricks in order to test for blood glucose levels. Called the “Electronic Mosquito”, it is a patch the size of a deck of cards that is fitted with four micro-needles. No, it does not look like a little robot mosquito.

mosquito for glucose testing?The “mosquito” part of its name is due to its ‘biting’ action. The four needles are programmed to bite sequentially at certain intervals. The needles are all electronically controlled to be able to go through the skin deep enough to get blood from a capillary, but shallow enough so that it doesn’t hit a nerve. The result is an almost painless extraction of blood for glucose testing.

And if you think the technology stops with the extraction of blood, think again. Aside from simply drawing blood, each cell in the e-Mosquito is equipped with sensors that have the ability to measure sugar levels in the blood. The data can then be transmitted wirelessly to a device such as a computer or a monitoring instrument. The system can even be attached to an alarm that can alert the patient or health care professionals once sugar levels reach the danger zone.

The device will definitely gain popularity among children and the elderly who are suffering from diabetes if and when it becomes available commercially. Most children especially find the manual poking procedure for blood glucose monitoring painful. The idea of simply wearing what is the equivalent of an adhesive bandage might be a more attractive alternative.

Martin Mintchev, the director of the Low Frequency Instrumentation Lab at the Schulich School of Engineering, worked on the design of the device over a period of three years along with Karan Kaler, the director of the Bio-Micro Electromechanical Systems Lab. Aside from glucose testing, they also hope to integrate a pump system into the device, giving it the ability to administer insulin injections based on blood glucose level data that it is able to gather.

April 26, 2009 at 9:45 am Comments (0)

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