September 22, 2011
A new study shows people who are depressed may be a little more likely than others to suffer a stroke down the road.
Looking back at 28 past studies, researchers estimated there would be 106 extra cases of stroke per 100,000 depressed people each year, 22 of them fatal.
But don’t reach for the antidepressants just yet, because the study has major limitations.
The biggest problem is that nobody knows how to account for the link—people who have the blues might smoke more and exercise less, for instance. Indeed, accounting for that did weaken the apparent tie between depression and stroke, which kills about 137,000 Americans a year.
And there’s a more troubling possibility, said An Pan, a researcher at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston who worked on the study.
In an earlier study, he found depressed people who take antidepressants appeared to have an increased risk of stroke compared with depressed people who weren’t on the drugs.
“These medications could be one possible reason for the increased risk of stroke in depression and the majority of studies did not control for this,” he told Reuters Health.
He stressed, however, that antidepressant use might also just be an indicator of severe depression, which might account for the extra risk.
“The current data on whether medications have an independent role (in stroke) is not clear at this moment,” Pan said.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are based on a total of more than 317,000 people followed for two to 29 years.
For health providers treating depressed people, the results add one more health problem to watch out for on a list that already includes chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
But for a person with the blues, they don’t mean a whole lot, said Pan.
June 14, 2011
By Daniel Nasaw
More than 60,000 Americans were sterilised, many against their will, as part of a eugenics movement that finished in 1979, aimed at keeping the poor and mentally ill from having children. Now, decades on, one state is considering compensation.
In 1968, Elaine Riddick was raped by a neighbour who threatened to kill her if she told what happened.
She was 13, the daughter of violent and abusive parents in the desperately poor country town of Winfall, in the US state of North Carolina.
While she was in hospital giving birth, the state violated her a second time, she says.
A social worker who had deemed her “feeble-minded” petitioned the state Eugenics Board to have her sterilised.
Officials coerced her illiterate grandmother into signing an “x” on an authorisation form. After performing a Caesarean section, doctors sterilised her “just like cutting a hog”, she says.
“They killed my kids,” Ms Riddick says. “They killed mine before they got to me. They stopped it.”
Sterilisation in the UK and Europe
While eugenics is now recognised as a pseudoscience – and after the Nazis, one with murderous consequences – it was once a respectable branch of the social sciences.
The term ‘eugenics’, meaning “good birth”, was coined in 1883 by Sir Francis Galton, an English scientist who pushed the University College London to found a department to study the field.
Sir Winston Churchill once called for forced sterilisation of “the feeble-minded and insane classes”.
While eugenic sterilisation never became official policy in the UK – in part due to opposition from the Catholic church – Finland, Norway, and Sweden adopted the sterilisation laws in the 1930s.
Between 1933 and 1945, more than 400,000 Germans were sterilised under Nazi “racial hygiene” laws, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Nearly four decades after the last person was sterilised under North Carolina’s eugenics programme, a state task force is seeking the 2,900 victims of sterilisation officials estimate are still alive.
The group hopes to gather their stories and ultimately to recommend the state award them restitution. But with public coffers under severe pressure amid a flagging recovery, it is not clear the legislature will agree.
“I know I can’t make it right but at least I can address it,” said North Carolina state legislator Larry Womble. He hopes “to let the world know what a horrendous thing the government has perpetrated on these young boys and girls”.
America’s sterilisation movement was part of a broad effort to cleanse the country’s population of characteristics and social groups deemed unwanted, an effort that included anti-race mixing and strict immigration quotas aimed at Eastern Europeans, Jews and Italians.
Beginning with Indiana in 1907, 32 states eventually passed laws allowing authorities to order the sterilisation of people deemed unfit to breed. The last programme ended in 1979.
The victims were criminals and juvenile delinquents, women deemed sexual deviants, homosexual men, poor people on welfare, people who were mentally ill or suffered from epilepsy. African Americans and Hispanic Americans were disproportionately targeted in some states.
July 18, 2009
by Mike Stobbe
ATLANTA — The last time the government embarked on a major vaccine campaign against a new swine flu, thousands of people filed claims contending they suffered side effects from the shots. This time, the government has already taken steps to prevent that.
Vaccine makers and federal officials will be immune from lawsuits that result from any new swine flu vaccine, under a document signed by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, government health officials said Friday.
Since the 1980s, the government has protected vaccine makers against lawsuits over the use of childhood vaccines. Instead, a federal court handles claims and decides who will be paid from a special fund.
The document signed by Sebelius last month grants immunity to those making a swine flu vaccine, under the provisions of a 2006 law for public-health emergencies. It allows for a compensation fund, if needed.
The government takes such steps to encourage drug companies to make vaccines, and it has worked. Federal officials have contracted with five manufacturers to make a swine flu vaccine. First identified in April, swine flu has so far caused about 263 deaths, according to numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.
The CDC said more than 40,000 Americans have had confirmed or probable cases, but those are people who sought health care. It’s likely that more than 1 million Americans have been sickened by the flu, many with mild cases.
The virus hits younger people harder than seasonal flu, but so far hasn’t been much more deadly than the strains seen every fall and winter. But health officials say the virus could mutate to a more dangerous form, or at least contribute to a potentially heavier flu season than usual.
“We do expect there to be an increase in influenza this fall,” with a bump in cases perhaps beginning earlier than normal, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the regular winter flu vaccine, a final step before shipments to clinics and other vaccination sites could begin.
The last time the government faced a new swine flu virus was in 1976. Cases of swine flu in soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., including one death, made health officials worried they might be facing a deadly pandemic like the one that killed millions around the world in 1918 and 1919.
Federal officials vaccinated 40 million Americans during a national campaign. A pandemic never materialized, but thousands who got the shots filed injury claims, saying they suffered a paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome or other side effects.
“The government paid out quite a bit of money,” said Stephen Sugarman, a law professor who specializes in product liability at the University of California at Berkeley.
Vaccines aren’t as profitable as other drugs for manufacturers, and without protection against lawsuits “they’re saying, ‘Do we need this?’” Sugarman said.
The move to protect makers of a swine flu didn’t go over well with Paul Pennock, a prominent New York plaintiffs attorney on medical liability cases. The government will probably call on millions of Americans to get the vaccinations to prevent the disease from spreading, he noted.
“If you’re going to ask people to do this for the common good, then let’s make sure for the common good that these people will be taken care of if something goes wrong,” Pennock said.