Tag Archives: health

Deaths That Don’t Have to Happen: The Relationship Between Knowledge and Health

Editor’s note: As part of  a writing class I took this summer, I had to do a group project addressing a social issue within our society.

Part of that assignment was writing an essay that promotes activism to address the issue.The research inspired me, so I decided to share that essay with you. Hope you enjoy! 


Knowledge, and the desire to use it to better our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone else. This is what has made our species so great.

Fire, the wheel, internal plumbing, electricity, refrigeration. All of these creations were the result of intelligent people with an insatiable drive to solve major problems that affected everyone within their communities.

As the world progressed into the modern era, more and more of these advancements came from the realm of medicine. For thousands of years, smallpox was a scourge that regularly plagued populations all over the world.

A close-up of the smallpox virus. Click to enlarge. Magnification: x28,500

In the 19th century, the disease was killing 400,000 Europeans every year. In the 20th century, it accounted for an estimated 300 million deaths worldwide.

Now, consider this: the vaccine for smallpox was discovered, by a man named William Jenner, in 1796. However, it took more than 160 years for the World Health Assembly to pass a worldwide resolution to eradicate the disease in 1959, and another 20 years for the disease to be completely eradicated.

There hasn’t been a single documented death from smallpox since 1980, but it took nearly 200 years to make that happen.

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Our modern world is no different. Every year, 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases, half of that being children 5 years old or younger.

Other preventable diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia, claim the lives of another 2 million children who are simply too poor to afford things like clean water and basic treatment.

If you’re keeping track, that’s 3.5 million children dying every year from basic problems that we solved ages ago. Another way to think of it: imagine every kid enrolled in public school in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston dying this year. Imagine, just for a second, all the human potential that we are losing along with these children.

I know you may be thinking that it’s somewhat inevitable that developing countries lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to new vaccines, treatments or procedures, so chew on this for a second: out of a list of 18 developed countries, the United States was at the very bottom when it came to deaths from preventable causes.

For people under the age of 75, these preventable causes account for 23% of total deaths for men and 32% of total deaths for women.

Preventable disease per 100,000 citizens. Click to enlarge

How many more people are we going to let die simply because they lack access to resources that are so plentiful that they are taken for granted by the rest of us?

We have to always remember that the position of privilege we find ourselves in only exists because someone at some point in history fought for our right to good healthcare.

So now, it is our responsibility, our duty, to use this position of privilege to extend this same basic human right to health to the countless people still living without it, not only in our country but across the globe.

Lack of Education: The Real Reason for the Spread of Ebola

Since the latest Ebola outbreak began in March, there have been more than 2,100 reported cases and 1,145 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

This is already by far the most serious Ebola outbreak in recorded history.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge (Courtesy of the New York Times)

But the disease isn’t some super-virus that is spreading through the air and infecting anyone who comes close. The only way it can be spread is through bodily fluids- getting the blood or vomit of a sick person in your eyes, nose, or mouth, or in an open wound.

So it’s actually relatively difficult to contract the disease, if you understand how it spreads. But the problem is that almost everyone who’s becoming infected now does not know how Ebola spreads.

That’s one of the reasons it has spread so fast. You see, an Ebola victim is most infectious right after they die. This is because they have very high-levels of the virus in their blood at that point.

Also, the total destruction of their immune system causes them to start leaking blood from every pore in their body (this is why Ebola is called “hemorrhagic fever”). These secretions cover the skin of the deceased with a thin film containing high concentrations of the virus.

The stages of Ebola. Click to enlarge

So when the families of victims preform their traditional burial practices, which include kissing and touching the body of the deceased, they give Ebola by far its best opportunity to spread.

This lack of knowledge about how the disease spreads has also caused people to become distrusting of the medical facilities that treat Ebola patients.

“People have no idea how infectious diseases work. They see people go into the hospital sick and come out dead—or never come out at all… They think if they can avoid the hospital they can survive,”

says Dr. Terry O’Sullivan, director of the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy Research (an American agency that has been aiding in the battle against Ebola).

Dr. O’Sullivan recently made an appearance on ABC News to discuss the outbreak (via Youtube)

When Uganda tried to stop the spread of the virus by preventing relatives from seeing their dead family members, it sparked a great deal of hostility and fear.

A rumor spread that the bodies were being kept for nefarious purposes, making the public even more distrusting of foreign health workers (some people believe the foreign health workers were actually the ones who brought the disease to Africa).

When Uganda tried to alleviate the problem by creating a mass graveyard where relatives could see (but not touch) their deceased loved ones, pandemonium broke out.

Villagers ran from the ambulances that transported them there, attacking humanitarian workers and attempting to burn down the hospital. As the Daily Beast’s Abby Haglage put it,

“They feared the disease—but they feared the medicine even more, as well as the people delivering it.”

Many people avoid going to clinics like this one even when they start showing symptoms of Ebola because of their belief that checking in to a treatment facility is an almost certain death sentence

Yesterday evening, this ignorance manifested itself again when a quarantine center for suspected Ebola patients in West Point, a slum in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia, was attacked and looted by protesters.

The protesters were unhappy that patients were being brought into their community from other parts of the capital, and some even believed that the whole Ebola outbreak was a hoax used to take advantage of them.

20 suspected Ebola patients who were being monitored for symptoms left the center during the attacks, but the real danger comes from the blood-stained sheets and mattresses that were looted by the protesters.

Warning shots from police weren’t enough to disperse the crowd of several hundred local residents who gathered near the clinic before it was stormed and looted. Click to enlarge (Getty Images)

A senior police official in the area expressed worry that the looting spree could spread the virus all over West Point, an area that is home to about 50,000 people, almost all of which live in serious poverty and lack basic health resources.

He called the attack,

“…one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life.”

I understand his frustration, but his comment should make us ask ourselves the following question: where did this stupidity come from?

Stupidity is simply a lack of knowledge.

Consider this: in the three countries that have been hit the hardest by this outbreak (Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia), literacy rates are between 35% and 45%.

Also, keep in mind that the vast majority of these literate people live in the major cities. In the rural areas, where the disease has really been spreading, literacy rates can be as low as 10%.

The extent of the outbreak as of August 11. Click to enlarge

What we need to understand about this outbreak is that if we would have invested in educating these people 20 years ago, we would not be spending exorbitant amounts of money now in an attempt to stop a disease whose primary victims don’t even understand how it spreads.

Also, the increased education levels would have probably led to a lot more local people becoming health workers.

Not only would there have been more health workers to deal with the outbreak, but a much larger portion of them would’ve been natives with the trust of the locals, rather than foreign workers who most locals are suspicious of.

The bottom line is that education is the answer to almost every problem in the world. Why? Because it gives people the ability to solve their own problems.

Related reading:

Why Ultra-Pure Water Is Actually Bad for Your Health (Video)

We tend to imagine that purity is the ultimate indicator of the quality of water. So why is 100%, ultra-pure water not good for us?

Well the simple answer is that water (H20) purely comprised of hydrogen and oxygen doesn’t provide our body with the natural electrolytes and salts we need to survive.

There is no such thing as truly pure water in the natural world. Even water in the purest springs and lakes contains small amounts of dissolved minerals such as sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Oregon’s Crater Lake, which formed in the crater of a long-dead volcano, is thought to be one of the purest natural bodies of water. It is fed almost exclusively by snow and rain. Click to enlarge (Photo: Danita Delimont / Gallo / Getty)

When these minerals dissolve in water, they form the ions which we commonly refer to as electrolytes.

According to eatbalanced.com,

“Maintaining the correct concentrations of these ions in and outside cells in the body is essential for transmitting electrical impulses along nerves and for muscle contraction. They allow us to perform all the “bioelectrical” functions such as moving, heart-beating, thinking, and seeing.”

But not only does pure water fail to provide these essential electrolytes, it tries to rob your body of them when you drink it, potentially creating a fatal imbalance (if you drink enough of it).

This is a result of a process of diffusion, in which dissolved material tends to move from more concentrated solutions to less concentrated ones.

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You can think of it this way: imagine a room with no gravity, split in half down the middle. You throw a couple hundred bouncy balls into the left side of the room. Since there’s no gravity, they bounce around everywhere.

But if you cut a bunch of holes in the barrier, they will slowly start to spread over to the right side. Some may cross back over to the left, but eventually, they will be evenly distributed across the entire room.

That’s how diffusion works inside you as well.

One of the reasons water is the main component of your body, from you lungs and skin to your blood and organs, is because it’s a universal solvent (ie. it can dissolve anything soluble and is neutral).

Click to enlarge

The water in your organs (the left side of the space room) maintains very specific levels of minerals (the bouncy balls).

When you drink ultra-purified water, it pulls the minerals out of your blood just like the right side of the space room pulled some of the bouncy balls over from the left. Ultra-pure water will even strip the copper off the inside of a pipe!

If you drank enough of it, the lack of minerals would eventually kill you.

These dissolved minerals, often referred to as “impurities”, are also what gives us the different flavors we taste when we consume different tap waters or brands of bottled water.

David Rees of National Geographic examined “Ultra-Pure” water. Check out the video below to see what he found.

How Ultraviolet Light Reveals All the Secrets Buried Just Below Your Skin (Video)

Ultraviolet or UV radiation is the radiation released by the sun. While the sun’s energy is obvious extremely important for our survival, the UV rays it emits can damage our skin over time.

Examining your skin through an ultraviolet lens can reveal things you never knew were there (a lot of people have freckles they can’t see).

It can also reveal changes and/or damage to the skin that is still invisible under normal light. Check it out in this awesome video posted by artist and photographer Thomas Leveritt:

World Health Organization: Ebola Outbreak Is Moving Faster Than Our Efforts to Control It

The current Ebola outbreak in Africa is a serious problem. Since it began in March, the outbreak has claimed 729 lives, leaving another 1,300 people with confirmed or suspected infections.

This is by far the most serious and deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus everThe second most deadly outbreak, in 1976, only had 602 cases and 431 deaths.

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Click to enlarge

Earlier today, Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), spoke to leaders from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone (the three most affected countries) in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

She proposed a $100 million plan to help reverse the tide of the battle against the outbreak by deploying hundreds of additional personnel to reinforce the local and international health workers who have been overwhelmed by the high number of infections.

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Click to enlarge

Chan, in no uncertain terms, stressed the urgency and importance of putting this plan into place:

“This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it.”

She also added that the ways things are going now, the chance of the outbreak spreading to other countries is high:

“If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”

In her speech, Chan told the leaders that this particular strain of the virus is the most lethal strain in the Ebola virus family. According to the W.H.O., the virus has killed more than half of the people it has infected.

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Click to enlarge

She also talked in detail about how fast and easily the virus has been spreading, as well as pointing that,

“…it has demonstrated its ability to spread via air travel, contrary to what has been seen in past outbreaks.”

The virus is spreading not only in rural areas but also in densely populated cities. Chan warned that if it is not contained quickly, it has the potential to mutate:

“Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises.”

The Ebola virus (those long, spaghetti-looking strands) covers a cell and spreads to others nearby. Click to enlarge (Credit: Paul Bates, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine)
The Ebola virus (those long, spaghetti-like strands) covers a cell and spreads to others nearby. Click to enlarge. (Credit: Paul Bates, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine)

Luckily, the virus is not yet airborne- it spreads via bodily fluids. If the blood, vomit or feces of an infected person comes in contact with the eyes, nose or mouth of someone else, the infection can be transmitted.

Most of the cases in the current outbreak are people caring for their sick relatives or preparing their bodies for burial. But health workers treating the sick are also at high risk:

“The outbreak is affecting a large number of doctors, nurses and other health care workers, one of the most essential resources for containing an outbreak,”

Chan said at one point during her speech. Just yesterday, Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor who had treated over 100 patients, died from the disease himself. It was a massive blow to the country’s efforts to battle the disease.

Dr. Sheik Umar Khan is considered a national hero in Sierra Leone (Photo: Reuters)

The W.H.O. says that the $100 million plan “identifies the need” for hundreds of additional personnel in the region. A statement they released said,

“Of greatest need are clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, social mobilization experts, logisticians and data managers.”

The CDC has said that the chances of the outbreak spreading across the Atlantic and taking hold in the United States is slim, mainly because people have to come into direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluid to get the virus.

However, they are still preparing for what they call the “remote possibility” that the outbreak does come to the States.

Read more from The New York Times here.

New Study: Just 7 Minutes of Running per Day Cuts Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease In Half

Most people know that exercising regularly reduces your risk of heart disease, but a new study suggests that even a seemingly insignificant amount of exercise can have huge benefits for heart health.

The study, which will be published in the August edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, was a joint project. It included researchers from Iowa State, USC, and LSU, as well as the University of Queensland Medical School in Australia.

The results are based off of data from more than 55,000 adults (with an average age of 44 years) gathered over the span of 15 years. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants had ever had a heart attack, a stroke or cancer.

Over the next 15 years, researchers kept track of which participants passed away as well as what the causes were. Then, they compared this data to information about which of the study participants reported running in their leisure time, even if it was only for short periods.

The researchers found that the participants who ran even somewhat regularly saw a significant decrease in heart-related illness and death, regardless of how fast, how long, or how far they ran.

In fact, the “modest runners” (people who ran about 51 total minutes per week, or just over 7 minutes a day) saw a 55% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular-related death, as well as a 30% decrease in the risk of death from any cause.

So stop using the “I don’t have time to workout” excuse. Just seven minutes of running every day, no matter how fast or how far you go, could potentially save your life.

Read more from the National Health Service of the UK here.

These “Hero Rats” Are Saving Countless Lives By Detecting Land-mines and Tuberculosis (Video)

As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved to play with his pet rats. One thing that always stuck in his memory was the rat’s strong sense of smell and the ease at which they could be trained.

Bart recalled these skills years later as a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where he was working on an analysis of the global land-mine detection problem (ie. how to find all of the unexploded mines left over from countless wars around the world).

Bart felt that rats could provide a cheaper, more efficient and more locally available solution to the land-mine problem, so he began to do early research on this concept in 1997.

Bart Weetjen, founder of APOPO, with one of his HeroRATs. Click to enlarge (Photo: Getty Images)

Bart called his project APOPO, which stands for  Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (English translation: Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development).

The organization moved to Mozambique in 2000, where they partnered with the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force to help mine-clearing operations in that  country.

A HeroRAT sniffs out a a land-mine. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

By 2006, APOPO’s HeroRATS were also fully integrated into land-mine detection programs in Tanzania. In 2010, APOPO began operations in Thailand as well.

Check out below to learn more about the HeroRAT’s mine-detection skills:

The reason that these rats are so good at detecting land-mines is that they have an extremely acute sense of smell, which allows them to easily identify the scent of TNT (after being trained to recognize it).

Early on, Bart realized that the HeroRATS’ amazing sense of smell wasn’t being fully utilized. In 2003, he entered APOPO in the Development Marketplace Global Competition sponsored by the World Bank.

His idea: using the rats to help detect tuberculosis as well as land-mines. APOPO won the competition, and in doing so received the necessary funding for their research into training TB-detecting HeroRATS.

A HeroRAT checks samples for tuberculosis. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

TB is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. About 9 million new cases are reported annually, and the disease kills nearly 2 million people each year.

The HeroRATS give health workers a huge advantage over humans when it comes to detection of the disease.

A human lab tech can only process about 40 samples in a day; the HeroRATS can do that same amount of work in only seven minutes, and they often find TB-positive samples that the human technicians missed.

Check out the video below to learn more about he HeroRATS’ work in tuberculosis detection:

To learn more about the APOPO organization’s land-mine and tuberculosis detection programs, you can visit their website here.

New Study: The More Education You Have, The Slower Your Brain Ages

A group of Danish researchers recently made an interesting discovery about the relationship between our education level and how fast we age.

The researchers were led by Eigil Rostrup, who works as a doctor at Denmark’s Glostrup Hospital.

Glostrup Hospital in Denmark

The study, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, was based off of data from a group of 2,400 boys who had been born in the Greater Copenhagen area in 1953. The boys were tested both physically and mentally at the age of 20, and again when they were 57.

The testing gathered data on the participants general state of health, as well as their weights, smoking habits and IQs.

After the second round of testing at age 57, the researchers invited 200 men to the Glostrup Hospital for additional research: the 100 men with the best scores compared to their first test (at age 20), and the 100 men with the worst scores compared to their first test.

“We asked the participants to lie completely still in the MR-scanner without doing anything. Once in a while a light would flash in the scanner and at the same time the participant had to move his fingers,”

said Rostrup. This allowed the researchers to see how fast the men’s brains were able to switch from “default mode” (ie. when our brain is relaxed) to problem solving mode. Moving your fingers when a light comes on may not seem like a complex problem, but problem solving (even for the most basic problems) all happens in one region of the brain.

The prefrontal cortex, where higher-level thinking and problem solving takes place (our “Default Mode” network is located in the frontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex and the parietal lobe). Click to enlarge

Rostrup and his team found that the men who had received a better education were able to more quickly and efficiently switch from default mode to problem solving mode than those with the least amount of education.

The findings suggest that an education or job that challenges you regularly can actually stave off diseases related to brain aging like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Here’s Rostrup again:

“In young people the brain quickly and efficiently switches from the default mode to problem-solving activity. But in elderly people, and especially those who are demented or suffer from Alzheimer’s, this change is slow and inefficient…

The better our brains manage this change from rest to problem-solving when we are 60, the better equipped we will be at the age of 80 when it comes to handling the tasks of daily life and avoiding the symptoms that are especially common in patients with dementia, including Alzheimer’s.”

The change in brain activity as Alzheimer’s sets in. Click to enlarge

Researchers and neuroscientists alike hope that this new study can help doctors predict conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s ahead of time.

One thing is for sure though: mental exercise keeps the mind young just like physical exercise does for our bodies. Keep that mind sharp!

Read the original story from Science Nordic here.

Despite All the Depressing News, The World Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Much, Much Better

Today, I woke up and skimmed the world news headlines. 80% of the stories were about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or the Malaysian aircraft shot down in Ukraine. The other 20% was mostly news on the Air Algerie flight which disappeared earlier this morning and ISIS’s exile and persecution of the Christians in Mosul.

It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.

What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.

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It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.

Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.

And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better- much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.

First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.

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Click to enlarge

A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.

The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:

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Click to enlarge

And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:

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Click to enlarge

So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:

We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.

(h/t Think Progress)

China Seals Off 30,000 People After A Man Dies of Bubonic Plague

The Chinese government has sealed off about 30,000 residents in parts of Yumen, a city in northeast China.

The move comes a week after a 38-year-old man died from the bubonic plague (also known as the black death). The man is said to have contracted the disease after coming in contact with a marmot- a rodent similar to the groundhog.

Residents have been told they cannot leave the area, and police have set up roadblocks to enforce that decree. Yumen has a population of 100,000 people, but only certain portions of the city have been isolated.

One of the police blockades

Besides the 30,000 people sealed off, the government has also put 151 people who had direct contact with the man under quarantine.

There is no word yet on how long the situation will last, but city officials have said they have enough rice, flour and oil to supply the 30,000 residents for a month.

China has sent in hundreds of extra “standby” medical workers to help contain the plague

Although the bubonic plague is rare in China, it is not totally unheard of. Since 2009, there have been an estimated 12 cases in China, with four deaths.

The plague can work extremely fast, sometimes killing a person within 24 hours of the initial infection. However, modern antibiotics have proven effective in treating the disease if it is detected quickly. Beijing officials say the chances of the outbreak spreading are low.

Check out the original story from the Daily Mail here.