Swine flu – still a killer threat, or is it all “hogwash?”

Inspired by this story:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35367744/ns/health-cold_and_flu/

Here are the stats (IN THE US) so far:  57 million U.S. illnesses, 257,000 hospitalizations and 11,690 deaths, including 1,180 children.

Does that sound like anything to worry about?  Well, what are the stats for SEASONAL flu in the US?  Here they are:  In a normal flu season, the CDC estimates that 36,000 Americans die of flu but 90 percent are over the age of 65. CDC estimates that 200,000 go into the hospital, again mostly the elderly.

So, doesn’t sound that much different from the regular flu, right?  Well, just look at the AGE GROUPS being hit – H1N1 (swine flu) mostly hits children and YOUNG adults.  Seasonal flu mainly kills the elderly, according to the CDC.

So why is it so bad?  And why does it affect mainly children and young adults?  We’ll delve into this a bit farther for you, and hopefully translate it into meaningful language.

H1N1 virus under microscope So, what is swine flu?  Its full name is swine influenza A (H1N1).  Not that that tells us much.  You should know that human, avian (bird) and swine flu virus DNA has been detected in this particular virus.  This is a new virus, one which our immune systems have never seen before.  Questions about people who were exposed to the last swine flu outbreak (in the 40’s?) should be put to rest by this – THEY ARE NOT THE SAME VIRUS!!!  *note – as much as 1/3 of people over the age of 60 might have some immunity to the virus, as it is slightly similar to the one that occurred in the 40s.  That being said, most people are still vulnerable to the virus.  Everyone who is in a high risk group should be vaccinated.  I might cover vaccines in another post, but suffice it to say, the vaccine is the SAME as the seasonal flu – just a different viral strain.  It’s made the same way, has the same risks and side effects.  So don’t take advice from people telling you it’s experimental – like I said, it is the SAME vaccine.

The fact that it is new is what is so deadly.  Here are some of the symptoms of swine flu, and seasonal flu:

Seasonal Flu symptoms:

  • fever (often high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches

Swine Flu (H1N1) Symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Now, some of you might be looking at that list and thinking “Hey, I’ve had seasonal flu, and been vomiting and had diarrhea.  Why didn’t you include those on the seasonal flu list?”  Funny you should say that – intestinal symptoms sometimes ARE present in seasonal flu, which is why the diagnosis (without testing) is hard.  But, stomach and intestinal symptoms in the seasonal flu are most common in children.  These symptoms are fairly frequently seen in swine flue, however, which is why they are included on that list.

I would like to mention that with swine flu, you can infect other people 1 day BEFORE YOU FEEL SICK to 5-7 days after you become ill.  The current recommendation, since this is such a contagious strain, is that if you feel sick, stay home!

So, how do you prevent yourself from becoming sick?  First, get vaccinated.  Second, wash your hands!!!  I don’t know how many H1N1 wash handspeople I see coming out from the men’s bathrooms without having washed their hands.  I then see them go into the restaurant (whatever is closest) to eat, with their unwashed hands.  You touch money; that money might have H1N1 on it, and you’d never know.  So, before you scratch your eyes, pick your nose, or eat anything, wash up!!!

So, lastly, why does this really affect healthy individuals in the 15-60 age group?  I’m not going to get into the specifics, but think of it this way; young children don’t have developed immunity, or have slightly weak immune systems, and so when they get the flu and their immune system reacts to it, it leaves them vulnerable to other infections.  They react to the swine flu the same way – weakly.  The elderly, on the other hand, have seen many different strains of flu in their lifetime, and so are afforded immunity simply by being exposed so much.  Thus, they already have some protecting factors, and their immune systems also react weakly when triggered.

A healthy individual has a rather powerful immune system.  When it sees something similar to what it’s already seen, it reacts, let say, normally.  So, it uses protective factors it already has, along with SOME new factors.  Here comes H1N1 – a completely new beast.  A healthy, young adult’s immune system reacts EXTREMELY strongly to it; so strongly, in fact, that for a few days the immune system does quite a bit of damage (not long term, but damage nonetheless) to your body.  In most people, they fully recover from this without any intervention; but for some, this can be deadly.  Those especially at risk are those with respiratory (breathing) problems like asthma; most people that die from H1N1 die from respiratory failure.

Here’s hoping that this cleared up some information on H1N1.  Please get vaccinated, as it’s your best chance for not getting the virus, along with washing your hands.  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!

Nuclear power – how does it work, and is it safe and green???

This story was inspired by the following blog:

http://taxdollars.freedomblogging.com/2010/01/15/rash-of-pipe-failures-at-nuclear-plants-threatens-safety-lawmakers-say-2/49465/

With our world rapidly going down the hill as far as the climate and pollution is concerned, people are looking for a real solution to the problems.  Whether you look at carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, or other environmental toxins, something needs to be done.  Among the future power options are solar, wind, water, geothermal, and possibly nuclear.

Nuclear power has been around for decades.  It is debated as to whether this type of power is safe OR green.  The purpose of this article is not to argue one way or the other.  The purpose is to educated the masses, and then let you decide for yourself.

So, how does a nuclear reactor work?  Do they stick something like a nuclear bomb in a box, and control the explosion to somehow generate electricity?  In short form, the answer would be a definite no.  Generating electricity from nuclear is both very simple, and very complex.  It is simplistic in that it only requires a nuclear fuel, water, some way to capture the heated water (steam), a turbine, and some type of generator.  The complexity comes from all the safety controls involved.

In regular nuclear fission reactions (such as in a nuclear power plant), a uranium atom is split, giving off by-products (radioactive waste, anyone?) and heat.  This heat is then used to heat water, which then converts into steam, which then drives a turbine, which drives a generator, which makes electricity…  *phew*  So, aside from the nuclear reaction, we’re looking at basically the same thing that hydroelectric power does – water turns a turbine that etc., etc., etc.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, have you ever heard of Chernobyl?  It was a soviet-era nuclear plant that exploded, and was quite horrible (in fact, to this day, I believe the town that was nearby is still unpopulated and unfit for habitation).  So naturally people are a little upset to have a nuclear power plant move in next door.  This is of course in addition to the nuclear waste that has to be disposed of somewhere, hopefully without contaminating things like groundwater (which most people use for drinking).  So, what types of things might make a person turn pro-nuclear?

For one thing, western nuclear plants have multiple safety processes in place.  Chernobyl happened due to a failed safety test, where safety protocols were suspended in order to test a new shut-down protocol.  Chernobyl (like most soviet nuclear plants) did not have a containment vessel around the reactor – all western plants have some sort of containment vessel, so that in the event of an explosion, the core isn’t exposed to air, and radioactive materials cannot escape.

Another key safety feature is control rods.  These are made of an element that basically absorbs the nuclear reaction.  Normally, these rods are inserted and withdrawn to control how much power is being generated (via heat generation).  In the event of a problem, a computer control automatically inserts the control rods (drops them, actually) into the reactor, immediately stopping all nuclear activity.

There are some other safety protocols in the larger reactors, but we’ll stick with those basic ones.  On to the next thing – “green” energy.  Nuclear reactions have zero particulate emissions – the only thing emitted is water vapor.  Some would argue that that is a particulate, but as the water vapor joins what is already in the air and falls as rain elsewhere, I wouldn’t be inclined to agree.  This is why nuclear power is being toted as a green energy source – it does not contribute to pollution or climate change.

But there is one negative thing about nuclear reactions that we have not found a way to get rid of – nuclear waste.  What do you do with tons of radioactive waste?  Some argue for burying it onsite, some for shipping it to be buried in a location far from habitation (Yucca mountain???), but all agree – it has to be taken care of.  I think that this will be the key that will make or break nuclear power as an energy source.

Just a quick note – the US gets about 19% of its power from nuclear plants.  Of course, this is quite a lot of energy compared to the rest of the worlds usage, but we get most of our energy from coal and gas.  Some countries, on the other hand, are nearly completely nuclear – France, for instance, gets about 80% of its electricity from nuclear power.  So, you can imagine that almost none of France’s pollution problems come from energy generation.  So how the heck do they get rid of all that nuclear waste? For one thing, they recycle the heck out of the waste, gathering all the plutonium and spent uranium, and making new fuel rods.  The high level waste for a family of 4 for 20 years is a glass tube the size of a lighter.

But, there are a lot of families in France.  To date, I don’t think even they have a permanent solution.  I believe that some of it gets shipped out (waste disposal, laughably, is semi-classified).  But, if it can be solved, permanently, then nuclear may just get a shot at being a green fuel.

What’s the answer?  Is nuclear power green, or can it ever be green?  You decide.

Osteopathic Medicine – a basic holistic approach

My focus in this post is to give a baseline understanding of osteopathic medicine, osteopathic manipulative technique, and what types of conditions these can be used to treat.  I may also discuss the specific philosophy behind osteopathic medicine in general.

Doctors of Osteopathic medicine, or those who have a D.O. after their name, are a unique type of medical practitioner.  They have full practice rights in all 50 states, and numerous countries.  This means they can do surgery, practice in any general or specialized area of medicine, prescribe medication, etc.  Some DO’s choose to also practice osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) or osteopathic manipulative technique (OMT).  These are explained below.  Osteopathic physicians have a more holistic philosophy, and are taught to treat the entire person – not just the disease.  DO’s should have the goal of helping the body heal itself, and educating the patient to achieve that goal.

OMM/OMT is divided into several different modalities, or techniques.  One popular technique, HVLA, is commonly what people refer to as “cracking” joints.  However, HVLA can also be used on muscles, widening its use.  Osteopaths will also use several “soft tissue” techniques, which help relax the musculature, and allows an increase of circulation to the area, assisting with the healing process.  Some advanced practitioners will use other techniques to assist with colds, GI problems, and many other maladies that patients might have.

At this point, you may be thinking (like I was) “where do I sign up?”  Unfortunately (I feel), DO’s have OMM/OMT as one tool in their toolbox, and quite a few DO’s do not practice OMM/OMT, preferring to use more conventional methods of medicine on their patients.  I don’t necessarily think that this is a bad thing, but if I have a choice between OMM/OMT and surgery, I’ll try almost ANYTHING before I have to choose surgery.

Look for more posts in the future about osteopathic medicine, osteopathic manipulation, and specific treatment techniques, as I will be doing features on these subjects, as well as many other more *conventional* medical treatments.

Medical hypnosis – really????

OK, my first *official* post on here will be in the area of complementary medicine, or CM.  Now, when you mention CM to a medical practitioner, they might start thinking of many different things – naturopaths, homeopathy, chiropractic practitioners (although there is debate as to whether they are CM or not), among others.  It would be my guess that hypnosis probably isn’t on their list.  I am currently in a class teaching medical hypnosis, and it has been really interesting, to say the least.

Our professor (who will remain unnamed as I do not have permission to reprint his name) has gone through many hours attempting to teach a group of students the basics of medical hypnosis.  Along the way, he has presented many and varied case studies and scientific studies on the effectiveness of medical hypnosis.  In the beginning, I was as skeptical as probably the majority of the populace.  But, studies have shown that for many people, the power of suggestion can not only take pain away, or reduce the amount of medication people need, but can vastly improve life by reducing undesirable cravings.

This brings me to a point which most people probably misunderstand – what IS hypnosis?  If I’m hypnotized, and they tell me to *insert your own graphical sentence here,* will I obey and do what I am told?  Hypnosis is only a state of mind – some people call it a “trance,” but our professor simply called it a “deep state of relaxation.”  In this state, your mind is more “open” to suggestion.  Now, you’re not going to go jump of a cliff; however, the force of positive suggestions is very powerful.  A suggestion could be made to a smoker who is trying to quit, for instance, that every day he/she doesn’t smoke, they can feel their lungs becoming clearer, or that they can feel the clean air entering their lungs.  Now, in a fully conscious state, you might reject such things; however, in a deeply relaxed state your mind mostly turns off the judgmental portion of your brain, which is why suggestions of this type can work.

This being said, hypnosis may not be for everyone – and most people take at least 2 or 3 sessions to see any benefit.  But, for those who might be thinking about how many medications they’re going to have to take, or trying to lose weight and/or kick a habit, hypnosis MIGHT be for you.

Here’s some interesting articles for you to read over that aren’t TOO sciency:

http://www.ncpamd.com/medical_hypnosis.htm

http://xnet.kp.org/permanentejournal/Fall01/hypnosis.html

Thanks for your support!

Science and Medicine – For The Rest Of Us

Hello everyone!  Welcome to a blog that will *hopefully* demystify science and medicine for all of you.  I continually have requests from family and friends to explain how things work, or how different researchers came to their conclusions, etc.  After explaining it in “real” terms, I’ve come to the conclusion that most “normal” people don’t really get what different doctors and scientists are really talking about.  So, the birth of this weblog is formed.  I hope to educate the general populous on medical and scientific principles, and answer any and all questions on medicine and science in the news.  If you have a question, please feel free to e-mail me – who knows, your question might be featured on this blog!