Category Archives: Medicine

Chart of the day: Euro deaths, medical inadequacy


BLOG Eurodeaths

From Eurostat [PDF]:

In the European Union (EU), 1.7 million persons aged less than 75 died in 2013. Among them, around 577,500 deaths (or 33.7% of total deaths) could be considered as premature, as they could have been avoided in the light of medical knowledge and technology. Heart attacks (184,800 deaths) and strokes (almost 94,000 deaths) accounted together for almost half (48%) of these total avoidable causes of death of people aged less than 75.

This information on avoidable deaths through optimal health care (i.e. amenable deaths) comes from a report issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. The concept of avoidable mortality is based on the idea that certain deaths (for specific age groups and from specific diseases) could be ‘avoided’ – meaning they would not have occurred at this stage – if there had been timely and effective health care in place.

This indicator on amenable mortality is aimed to be used in a global context of health system performance assessments. Assessing the performance of health care systems is of increasing importance in the EU. While the amenable mortality indicator is not meant to be a definite or unique measurement of the quality of health care in the Member States, it provides some indication of the quality and performance of healthcare policies in a country.

Map of the day: TB cases among immigrants up


From the Centers for Disease Control [PDF]:

The percent-age range of the total number of TB cases that occurred in foreign-born persons in each state is highlighted for 2004 and 2014 in these side-by-side maps.  The number of states with less than 25% of their TB cases among the foreign-born decreased from 10 states in 2004 to 8 states in 2014. The number of states with at least 25-49% of cases among the foreign-born decreased from 18 states in 2004 to 6 states in 2014. However, the number of states that had 50% or more of their cases among the foreign-born increased from 24 states in 2004 to 37 states in 2014.

The percentage range of the total number of TB cases that occurred in foreign-born persons in each state is highlighted for 2004 and 2014 in these side-by-side maps. The number of states with less than 25% of their TB cases among the foreign-born decreased from 10 states in 2004 to 8 states in 2014. The number of states with at least 25-49% of cases among the foreign-born decreased from 18 states in 2004 to 6 states in 2014. However, the number of states that had 50% or more of their cases among the foreign-born increased from 24 states in 2004 to 37 states in 2014.

The Empire Files: Turning troops into lab rats


In the latest episode of The Empire Files, Abby Martin turns her critical gaze to aother national shame: The exploitation of America’s military as experimental subjects of testing on everything from nerve gasses and biological warfare agents to mind-altering drugs and nuclear weapons.

Not only does America’s military brass treat soldiers as experimental animals; they also deny what they’ve done and refuse to pay the medical treatments needed to alleviate the miseries they’ve induced.

And they’ve been doing it for more than a century, as she searingly documents.

What marks this episode as particularly notable is the dramatic change of format, evidence of Martin’s skills as a visual artist [you can see some of her painting and photography here]. The result is a new fusion, and, we hope, a measure of things to come.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Used & Betrayed – 100 Years of US Troops as Lab Rats

Program notes:

On Memorial Day, politicians will speak at ceremonies all over the country and repeat their favorite mantra: “Support the troops.”

This pledge is hammered into the American psyche at every turn. But there is a hidden, dark history that shows that the politicians are in fact no friend to service members–but their greatest enemy.

An easy way to prove this truth is to look at how they so quickly betray and abandon their soldiers after purposely ruining their lives, and even after using them as literal lab rats.

In this disturbing chapter of The Empire Files, Abby Martin documents decades of experimentation on US troops—from nuclear tests to psychotropic drugs—as well as knowingly exposing them to deadly poisons, from sarin gas to Agent Orange.

Most damning is that the hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking help from the government for the side-effects are always met with lies and denial.

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Original music by Anahedron

Uber spies on your cell phone battery; charges vastly more if it’s dying


Of all the nasty forms of predatory capitalism we’ve heard of lately, this one ranks almost up there with Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli‘s cynical boosting of the price of a a drug used to treat an otherwise-lethal AIDS-related illness by 5,550 percent after buying the company that made it.

But this time it’s Uber, another outfit that’s taken predation on the desperate to new levels, and CBC News has the story [emphasis added]:

It’s no secret that Uber uses surge pricing at peak periods, such as New Year’s Eve, when demand is high.

But what many may not know is that when you download the Uber app, the company can track your smartphone battery life — and it’s studying how that influences your price point.

The company has determined that customers are more willing to accept surge pricing if they know their phone is about to lose power.

The ride-hailing service is alerted when a customer’s phone battery is running low because the app switches into power-saving mode.

In a recent NPR podcast titled This is Your Brain on Uber, Keith Chen, the company’s head of economic research, said people with fading batteries are less inclined to wait “10 to 15 minutes” to see if demand for drivers drops, along with pricing, because with a low battery, they may not get a ride at all.
You’re willing to pay more

The behavioural economist at UCLA said users are willing to accept surge pricing increases as high as 9.9 times the normal price of a ride if their smartphone’s battery is close to dying.

As for Pharma Bro, he had a birthday in March while awaiting trial on securities fraud charges unrelated to the drug price hike. Britain’s Pink News got a picture of the birthday cake cake Shkreli tweeted [yes, it’s really the cake served at his bash]:

BLOG Pharma Bro

Chart of the day: Zika continues to spread


From the latest World Health Organization Zika Situation Report [PDF], which reports that the disease has now become endemic in Argentina and Germanyhas reported in first case of sexually transmitted Zika virus disease:

BLOG Zika

The WHO online summary of the Situation Report notes that:

As of 18 May 2016, 60 countries and territories report continuing mosquito-borne transmission of which:

  • 46 countries are experiencing a first outbreak of Zika virus since 2015, with no previous evidence of circulation, and with ongoing transmission by mosquitos.
  • 14 countries reported evidence of Zika virus transmission between 2007 and 2014, with ongoing transmission.
  • In addition, 4 countries or territories have reported evidence of Zika virus transmission between 2007 and 2014, without ongoing transmission: Cook Islands, French Polynesia, ISLA DE PASCUA – Chile and YAP (Federated States of Micronesia).

Person-to-person transmission:

  • Ten countries have reported evidence of person-to-person transmission of Zika virus, probably via a sexual route.
  • In the week to 18 May 2016, Argentina is the latest country to report mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. Germany is the latest country to report person-to-person Zika virus transmission.
  • Microcephaly, and other fetal malformations potentially associated with Zika virus infection or suggestive of congenital infection, have been reported in eight countries or territories. Puerto Rico is the latest territory to report a case of microcephaly associated with Zika virus.
  • Two cases of microcephaly and other neurological abnormalities are currently under verification in Spain and Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of).
  • In the context of Zika virus circulation, 13 countries and territories worldwide have reported an increased incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and/or laboratory confirmation of a Zika virus infection among GBS cases. One GBS case associated with Zika virus infection in a returning traveller to the Netherlands has been reported.
  • Based on research to date, there is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and GBS.

CDC monitors 300 Zika-infected pregnant women


Zika has come to the United States in the bodies of those infected elsewhere, but it still hasn’t been detected in mosquitoes in the U.S. capable of hosting the virus.

It’s only of question of when, not if, the virus does become endemic.

But there’s another concern about the disease capable of producing microcephaly and the sometimes deadly Guillain-Barré syndrome.

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

To gain a more complete picture of the impact of Zika virus infection during pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today will begin reporting the total number of pregnant women with Zika virus infection from two newly established enhanced surveillance systems: the US Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Puerto Rico Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System. As of May 12, 2016, the two Zika virus infection surveillance systems are monitoring 157 pregnant women in the U.S. states and 122 pregnant women in the U.S. territories with laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection.  That is a total of 279 pregnant women in U.S. states and territories. These new numbers reflect a broader group of pregnant women—pregnant women who have any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection, and whether or not they recalled symptoms —compared with numbers previously reported. This new way of reporting numbers aligns with recommendations for ongoing monitoring of pregnancies at risk for poor outcomes associated with Zika, based on scientists’ current understanding of the effects of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

Until today, CDC has reported the number of people with Zika virus disease using a case definition established in consultation with the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists, which included only individuals who had laboratory test results and symptoms or pregnancy complications consistent with Zika.  However, recently published reports indicate that some pregnant women with laboratory evidence of a recent Zika infection but without symptoms have delivered infants with microcephaly and other serious brain defects. Therefore, starting today, CDC will report numbers of pregnant women with Zika from the US Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Puerto Rico Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System, two systems designed to collect information about pregnancies and birth outcomes among women with any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection, with or without symptoms.

CDC’s top priority for the Zika response is to protect pregnant women and their fetuses. The range of health effects linked with Zika infection during pregnancy as well as how many and which pregnancies may be at risk of poor outcomes are essential pieces of information for the public health response to the Zika outbreak.  Reporting the total number of pregnant women with any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection from the US Zika Pregnancy Registry and the Puerto Rico Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System will provide a more comprehensive picture of the effects of Zika in U.S. states and territories. This information will help healthcare providers as they counsel pregnant women affected by Zika and is essential for planning at the federal, state, and local levels for clinical, public health, and other services needed to support pregnant women and families affected by Zika.

Northern Ireland fracking battle is underway


Carrickfergus, in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim, has seen its share of battles, including an early victory by an American revolutionary, John Paul Jones, who captured H.M.S. Drake on 24 April 1778 after luring her from the protection of the guns of Carrickfergus Castle in one of the first naval battles of the Revolutionary War.

A forest just outside Carrickfergus is the scene of another battle today.

From a 16 May post in Rigzone, and oil and gas industry trade news site:

InfraStrata plc announced Monday that drilling has commenced at the Woodburn Forest-1 well, located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

The well will be drilled to a depth of 6,561 feet and target three conventional sandstone reservoir intervals comprising the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone, Lower Permian Sandstone and Carboniferous Sandstones. Drilling operations at the well are expected to take around six weeks to complete. P50 Prospective Resources have been estimated at 25 million barrels of oil within the Woodburn Forest prospect.

Following the completion of drilling, the well will be plugged and abandoned and the site will be restored to its former state. In the event of encouraging results from the well, any re‐establishment of the site for further works, such as testing, would require further consents and planning approval.

The UK. government under David Cameron has been an ambitious advocate of fracking as a way to supplement the nation’s diminishing returns from its North Seas oil and gas fields.

But Woodburn Forest is a national treasure, and opposition was inevitable.

Woodburn forest near Carrickfergus. Via Wikimedia.

Woodburn forest near Carrickfergus. Via Wikimedia.

Opposition to the drilling has become a significant issue in the Dáil, the national legislature, as the Irish News reports:

THE issue of an exploratory oil drill project in Co Antrim has been raised in the Dáil.

Richard Boyd Barrett, a People Before Profit TD, described InfraStrata’s commencement of drilling at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus as a “very significant and alarming event.”

Mr Boyd Barrett said: “Although NI Water claim there is no danger to the water, they have had to close three reservoirs down.

“They (InfraStrata) started this test drilling without planning permission, without an environmental assessment and without any consultation.

“This is very significant for down here because it opens the door and sets a precedent for test drilling,” added the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown TD.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister, Frances Fitzgerald of Fine Gael, dismissed Mr Barrett’s concerns.

And the legislator who represents East Antrim and his party, one with a notable revolutionary history as well, has added his voice to the anti-fracking coalition.

From  Sinn Féin:

Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan has said his party remains resolutely opposed to fracking. And he said the company behind ongoing exploratory drilling at Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus must address the concerns of the local community.

The East Antrim MLA said:

“The local community around Woodburn is very concerned about the ongoing drilling.

“Not only are they concerned about the potential impact the drilling could have on the environment but also that it could be a precursor to an application to carry out fracking on the site.

“Sinn Féin is totally and absolutely opposed to fracking anywhere on the island and will block any application if it comes forward.

“We submitted a motion to the Assembly noting the concerns about the drilling at Woodburn.

“We are calling on the Executive to ensure such applications are not approved until assurances are secured against any negative potential impact on the water supply, environment, tourism or local communities.

“I have called on several occasions for Infrastrata to meet with local residents and that meeting now needs to happen to address their concerns.”

And word of another opposition group came Thursday.

From the Concerned Health Professionals of Ireland:

A group of health professionals launched the Concerned Health Professionals of Ireland (CHPI) to a packed room in Buswells Hotel Dublin May 18th. The campaign is based on a growing network of health providers opposed to fracking, a model successfully used to achieve a ban in New York. The group launched a new website that includes a petition for health professionals to call on government on both sides of the border to implement a ban.

TDs that attended included Joan Collins, (ULA) Eamon Scanlon (FF) Eamon Ryan (Green Party) Martin Kenny (SF) and Maureen O Sullivan (IND). Richard Boyd Barret (PBP) was present and had spoken about fracking in the Dail earlier that day where concerns were raised about the first drill on the island of Ireland in Woodburn Forest, near Belfast.

Carroll O Dolan, a GP from Cavan spoke about the many recorded negative health impacts associated with fracking, based on peer-reviewed research that now exists. “It’s a fact that fracking damages health. Its not just rumour” he said

He said that for years these negative environmental and health impact were dished out by the oil and gas industry on developing countries but it was now coming to Ireland. “Our brothers and sisters have been exposed to this for a long time”