Health Updates 30 July 2012

  • Health team fights Ebola outbreak that has killed 14 in Uganda“An outbreak of the rare and deadly Ebola virus has killed 14 people in midwestern Uganda, many in the past week, the Ugandan government said Saturday.  A team of health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Ugandan government has been sent to the area, roughly three hours from Uganda’s capital, Kampala, to bring emergency response measures, according to a government statement.  The strain of virus, which in recent years has killed at a rate above 70 percent of those infected, has been identified as Ebola Sudan, one of the virus’s more common strains.  Ebola manifests itself as a hemorrhagic fever.  In 2000, an outbreak killed 224 people in Uganda.  The virus was first reported in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo and is named for the river where it was recognized….A “strange disease” was first reported in the area several weeks ago, according to the government’s statement. Laboratory tests confirmed that the disease was Ebola hemorrhagic fever.  The first confirmed death was a baby in the village of Nyanswiga, according to a health official; her family has  since lost eight others to the outbreak.  Fourteen of the 20 people who are suspected of having contracted the virus have died.  A clinical officer who treated the original case fell ill and died soon afterward.  Her  4-month-old baby, admitted for treatment on Monday, died Friday evening.  The clinical officer’s sister, who took care of her when she became ill, has been admitted for treatment with similar symptoms, but is in ‘fairly stable’ condition, the government statement said….The CDC keeps a team of scientists and a laboratory in Uganda to study Ebola and other deadly viruses and hemorrhagic fevers often found in equatorial Africa.  Ebola has recently been among those highlighted by the United States as a potential biological-weapons threat.  In response to the current outbreak, the CDC said in a statement on Saturday that it was helping to identify and trace ‘all those who may have had contact with suspect or confirmed cases since early July’.” (NY Times)
  • London smog a concern for athletes’ lungs: “More often than not, the Olympic Games are held in the world’s most industrialized cities, putting respiratory concerns near the top of the list when it comes to athletes’ health, experts say.  Estimates show about one in six Olympic athletes have exercise-induced asthma, a condition that can leave them reaching for rescue inhalers on the race track — and poor air quality, which is so often a concern in the chosen host cities, can easily exacerbate the problem, according to Clifford Bassett, MD, an allergist and medical professor at New York University.  ‘We’re particularly concerned with the outdoor sports, like cycling and running, since they’re more impacted by air quality,’ Bassett told MedPage Today.  Experts have warned that London air quality has taken a hard hit from the summer heat wave, though forecasts call for a bit of a reprieve over the weekend as the games get underway.  Still, recent reports have noted that London’s air quality is consistently worse than that of other countries in the European Union.  Some people charge that London has also done far less to reduce emissions than Beijing did in 2008, though that city started with a few more dire pollution situation.  Most athletes are prepared for any changes in the quality of the air they’re breathing in….Though ‘a very high number’ of Olympic athletes experience exercise-induced bronchospasm, a smaller number – about 8% – have diagnosed asthma.  All of these athletes would be treated  with long-term medications and would have rescue inhalers on hand…In addition, preventive steps including adequate warm-up, proper hydration during exercise, and a sufficient cool-down could help  mitigate any respiratory risks….Problem pollutants include nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and ozone, most of which come from motor vehicle emissions….All of these can inflame the airways and trigger attacks…even if they don’t cause an acute episode, they can still affect performance.” (Kristina Fiore, MedPage Today)
  • Airports in NY, LA and Hawaii deemed worst for pandemic spread: “Among airports in the United States, JFK in New York City, LAX in Los Angeles and Honolulu International Airport in Hawaii are most likely to play a major role in the spread of a pandemic, according to a new study.  Recent global public health crises – such as the 2009 H1N1 ‘swine’ flu pandemic that killed about 300,000 worldwide and the 2003 SARS outbreak that affected 37 countries and caused about 1,000 deaths – have increased awareness about how air travel can help quickly spread dangerous bacteria and viruses around the world.  In this study, researchers in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) used a new mathematical model to determine how the 40 largest US airports would influence the spread of a contagious disease that originated in the cities where the airports are located.  John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City would have the most influence, followed by airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago (O’Hare) and Washington, D.C. (Dulles), the investigators found….The MIT model differs from existing models in that it incorporates factors such as variations in travel patterns among individuals, the geographic locations of airports, and waiting times at individual airports.  ‘The findings could form the basis for an initial evaluation of vaccine allocation strategies in the event of an outbreak, and could inform national security agencies of the most vulnerable pathways for biological attacks in a densely connected world,’ researcher Ruben Juanes, an associate professor in energy studies in civil and environmental engineering, explained in an MIT news release.” (MedlinePlus)
  • What’s that symptom?  Experts warn of self-diagnosis via the Web: “Got a weird ache or pain?  A rash that’s hung around too long?  With the wealth of information now available at the click of a mouse, it’s common to search the Web to figure out what may be wrong with you.  But a new study suggests that when the symptoms are your own, ‘self-diagnosis’ via the Internet — or anywhere but a doctor’s office — too often leads to inaccurate, worst-case conclusions.  Research suggests that people tend to overestimate their own risk for serious ailments, in a way that they wouldn’t do if they were thinking about someone else’s symptoms.  ‘This is particularly true when the disease is rare,’ said study co-author Dengfeng Yan, a doctoral student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.  ‘That is, given the same set of symptoms, people will overestimate their own likelihood of getting such rare (often serious) diseases than that of other people’.  The study was published online recently in the Journal of Consumer Research and will appear in the journal’s February 2013 print issue….’Consumers often fear the worst when it comes to their own health, while maintaining a calm objectivity with regard to others,’ Yan said.  If you’ve got pain in the chest, you think: heart attack.  If a friend of a friend has the same symptoms, you say: probably indigestion.  But this type of thinking can have downsides, the authors write, often leading ‘to mistakenly diagnosing oneself as possessing a serious disease, causing both unnecessary anxiety and wasteful medical expenditure’.  They add that, ‘mistaken self-diagnoses of this sort are particularly likely given the ease of information access on the Internet, which frequently leads to consumers to engage in ‘symptom-matching’ exercises’….Getting information via the Web can also make it difficult to decide what symptoms mean in the absence of a doctor’s analysis.  ‘When people are able to access a lot of information that isn’t filtered, and they don’t have expertise in the field, they don’t know how to prioritize the information’ [one doctor explained]….That’s true whether you’re investigating that strange knocking noise in your car but have not clue about mechanics, he said, or whether you’ve just spotted a lump in your thigh and have no medical expertise.  For instance, a healthy young man may have just drunk a very cold soda and then has crushing chest pain.  If he looks that up online, he is likely to see that the symptoms may point to a heart attack…but that information doesn’t take vital facts such as the man’s age and medical history into account…’Chest pain in a 55 year-old guy is looked at much differently than in a 25-year guy’….Instead of doing amateur diagnosing on their own, Yan said, ‘We advise people to see a real doctor’.  As the new study points out, ‘The advantage of seeing a real doctor isn’t just because he or she is an expert,’ he said.  ‘It’s also because they aren’t you’.” (HealthDay)

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