Legionnaires’ Disease

June 8, 2012

Legionella pneumophila is a gram negative bacterium (this refers to the characteristics of the bacterial cell wall and is important in determining which antibiotics will be most useful to fight it) and is the causative agent in Legionnaires’ disease.

Once the bacterium has entered the body it invades cells called macrophages. Macrophages are cells of the immune system which normally scavenge cells debris and engulf invading pathogens so they can be destroyed by other cells.

The Legionella pneumophila bacterium, however, is able to replicate itself inside the macrophage instead of being destroyed.

The bacterium is transmitted via tiny airborne droplets that are released when water is disturbed and are then inhaled into the lungs.

The most common sources are cooling towers (suspected to be the case in the current Scottish outbreak), ice machines, hot-tubs, showers, air conditioning systems and any complex potable water system or cooling system.

Once infection has taken hold (between 2-10 days), the immune response initially causes fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches and a cough, similar to flu symptoms.

More serious consequences of infection include kidney and liver damage. Middle aged, elderly people, smokers, and patients with chronic lung conditions have an elevated risk of contracting the disease.

Antibiotics that have good intercellular penetration are most effective against the bacterium, such as tetracyclines or erythromycin.

Fukushima Sushi, Anyone?

May 29, 2012

The Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) on the Californian coast have been found to have ten times the expected levels of radioactive caesium, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

The fish, which spawn in Japanese waters, migrate to the Californian coast to feed and have transported the radioactive particles across the ocean. Several thousand tonnes are caught each year for human consumption but marine scientists do not currently think they pose any harm to human health.

The tuna, tested by scientists at Stony Brook University, New York, contain levels of radioactive caesium averaging 5-10 becquerels (Bq), which is below the accepted safe level for human consumption (100Bq/kg). Scientists warn the levels could rise when the fish return to Japanese waters and are once again exposed to the high levels of radionuclides.

Caesium is often present in seawater as a result of atomic weapons testing but Fukushima was the biggest accidental release of radioactive material into the sea in history. Marine biologists, however, have stumbled upon a silver lining because measuring the rate at which the Fukushima caesium decays will enable them to trace migratory patterns in marine wildlife.

British Airways Impede Cancer Research

March 14, 2012

British Airways announced today that they have capitulated to the demands of a small group of animal rights extremists and will no longer carry laboratory animals. These animals –usually genetically engineered mice- are essential in the development of treatments and cures for diseases such as cancer, which more than one in three people will develop over their lifetime. The decision by British Airways illustrates that the health and happiness of their passengers and their families is not a priority, mice are.

Medical Advancement Depends on Animal Research

There are millions of people alive today and free from suffering thanks to animal research in life sciences. For example, cure rates for cancer have doubled in the last forty years, an achievement which simply would not have been possible without laboratory animals. Further, in the 1960s, only a quarter of children with cancer survived to adulthood and now, as a direct result of animal research, more than three quarters of children survive cancer. The list is endless and arguably every medical achievement in the 20th century has relied on the use of animals in some way, according to the British Royal Society (who act as scientific advisers to the government).

Scientists Take Animal Welfare Seriously

Strict legislation governs the use of animals in experiments so that suffering is reduced to a minimum at all stages, including during transportation. Animals are never used in research unnecessarily and it is actually a legal requirement not to use animals if there is an alternative. However, it is also a legal requirement that drugs are tested on animals before they’re given to patients, so preventing or stalling animal research stops life-saving treatments from reaching those who desperately need them.

British Airways Are Delaying Vital Research

British Airways have allowed themselves to be intimidated by a few extremists who have convinced them that passengers will boycott an airline that ‘supports animal suffering’. Our flagship airline should consider the millions of people in the UK currently suffering from cancer and other life-threatening or debilitating conditions. The cowardly actions of British Airways will delay vital research, thus preventing new therapies from being developed that have the potential to reduce human suffering and save lives.

Passengers SHOULD Boycott BA

Rather than be concerned about the views of a handful of extremists, British Airways should be more concerned about the views of their passengers. With cancer affecting one in three people, there are very few whose lives have not been scarred by it, not to mention the countless other illnesses and diseases researchers are trying to prevent and cure. Our health and the health of our loved ones depend on the efforts of research scientists in this country, who work tirelessly to develop effective life-extending and life-saving drugs, which sometimes necessitates animal research.

Why You Should Never Miss Your Smear Test

March 5, 2012

Women who do not attend for cervical screening have only a 66% cure rate for cervical cancer, according to research published in the British Medical Journal this week. Not attending screening appointments means that women do not seek medical advice until symptoms of cervical cancer are being experienced. Symptoms of cervical cancer include abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, unusual heavy discharge, pain after urination and bleeding after intercourse, and can easily be mistakenly attributed to other illnesses.

The Swedish Centre for Research and Development followed all 1230 women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer in Sweden between 1999 and 2001 to see just how significant smear tests are in cure rates. Sadly, 373 of the women died from cervical cancer and three quarters of them had one thing in common: they had not had a cervical smear in the recommended time frame.

For women diagnosed through screening the cure rate is 92% and the chances of a cure are higher for women who attend an appointment through invitation and are not overdue for a smear test. The NHS recommend that women between the ages of 25-49 be screened every three years and women over 50 every five years. You should be sent a letter telling you when your screening is due and if you think you are overdue, contact your GP to check.

The research shows that cervical screening within the recommended time frame substantially reduces the risk of cervical cancer and improves cure rates. You should make every effort to attend your appointment.

Sex-Selective Abortion Targets Female Foetuses

February 29, 2012

Since the introduction of ultrasound to determine foetal sex, it is estimated that there are 90 million less females in the combined populations of China, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan. In such patriarchal societies where women are viewed and treated as less equal a preference for male heirs is not unusual.  In such societies a wife’s status- and therefore economic security- is not assured until she produces a son. Further, it is often the case that a dowry is required to marry off a daughter, whereas a son would bring in a dowry, thereby adding to the family’s wealth.

In the UK, the socio-economic context is different and yet police and the General Medical Council (GMC) confirmed this week that they are investigating claims that clinics in England are performing abortions based on the sex of the foetus. Evidence that non-medical bias against females is occurring in the UK was first highlighted in 2007, in a study of sex ratios at birth amongst Indian immigrants. Although abortion of female foetuses is a practice that is well documented in some countries, this was the first time such bias was observed in a Western Country.

Sex selective abortion is currently legal in the UK when there is a possibility of a hereditary sex-linked disease. There are several hundred known diseases that affect only males and prospective parents with a family history of such a condition are legally allowed to reduce the chance of their child suffering by ensuring they have a girl. But what about parents that would like to have a family that includes children of both sexes or have a general preference for children of one sex? When an ultrasound confirms a foetus of the undesirable sex are women in the UK opting to have an abortion?

The only actual quantitative evidence that this is occurring in the UK remains based in immigrant Indian communities, where ingrained cultural ideals are probably influencing choices. In such cases there may be wider pressure from the family to terminate the pregnancy based on sex-selection and this is an issue which must be addressed by health professionals. There is no evidence that this is typical in the wider community and outlawing non-medical sex-selective abortion would be futile, and impossible to police.

Abortion has been legal in the UK since 1967 and ultrasound technology in use from as early as 1961. Women are routinely referred for abortions on the NHS without having to offer any reason for the termination and they can even refer themselves privately if they wish.  Women who want to abort pregnancies based on foetal sex are already doing so; they’re just not talking about it.

PIP Implants: Who’s Responsible?

February 10, 2012


Who and what are PIP?

The French company Poly Implant Prosthese (PIP) were making silicone implants (known as PIPs) from as early as 2001, and it is estimated that approximately 45,000 women in the UK have received this particular type of implant (95% for purely cosmetic reasons). The scandal surrounding these implants centres on the fact that industrial grade silicone was used, rather than medical grade. The industrial silicone in this case was supplied by German retailer Brennan AG, who admitted that they would normally supply their silicone for sealing materials in construction and for electrical components. To acquire medical grade status (i.e. be fit for human implantation), rigorous testing of materials, which include mechanical, chemical, animal and clinical evaluations, must be carried out before the product is approved.

PIP did the testing and the implants were approved, so what’s the problem?

After such testing is complete, approval is given by a regulator known as a Notified Body. There are around 80 of these companies in Europe, mostly privately owned and the quality is very variable. The Notified Body who authorised PIP implants was a German company called TUV Rheinland. After the product was authorised, TUV were responsible for annual check-ups on the company -to make sure the manufacturing process, paper work and standards etc were in order. It is suspected that after approval for the implant was given, PIP decided to change the kind of silicone it was using and order the (cheaper) industrial silicone and failed to inform TUV, which they were required to do. TUV, for its part, took PIP at their word during audits and missed the huge paper trial indicating purchases of unauthorised raw materials. So far, this seems to be a French and German problem…

So, how did these implants get into the UK?

Unfortunately, there is no centralised process for approving medical devices and so approval can be sought in any EC member state and then placed on the market in any EC member state. The quality of the Notified Bodies is variable throughout Europe and the quality of the regulators of the Notified Bodies is also variable, which has allowed PIPs to slip through the net and into women, where they have no business being.