October 7th, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Shower heads serve as a breeding ground for a bacterium that may cause dangerous respiratory illness, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“If you are getting a face full of water when you first turn your shower on, that means you are probably getting a particularly high load of Mycobacterium avium, which may not be too healthy,” lead researcher Norman Pace said.
M. avium rarely infects healthy people, but people with compromised immune systems such as the elderly, pregnant women or those suffering from or fighting off another disease are more vulnerable to the bacteria. If it successfully colonizes the lungs, M. avium can produce tiredness, malaise, weakness, shortness of breath and a dry, persistent cough.
In the current study, researchers tested swab samples from 50 different showerheads from nine cities in seven different U.S. states. They found that levels of M. avium on the average showerhead were 100 times higher than the average found in tap water. Thirty percent of shower heads tested contained M. avium levels high enough to pose a risk of infection.
The researchers concluded that M. avium forms a biofilm on the inside of the showerhead, with plastic shower heads more likely to develop this problem than metal ones. Water emerging from these contaminated shower heads may deliver an infectious load directly to a person’s face, and contaminated droplets might also aerosolize in the shower, allowing a person to inhale the bacteria into the lungs.
Rates of M. avium infection have been on the rise in recent years, and the study authors suggest that a shift from baths to showers might be partially to blame.
Other diseases known to be spread by showers include chest infections and the variety of pneumonia known as Legionnaire’s disease. Hot tubs and spa baths may also serve as transmission routes for respiratory infections.
October 1, 2010
David S. Morgan
The U.S. government has formally apologized for a secret study conducted in the 1940s in which Guatemalan prisoners, service members and mental hospital patients were secretly infected with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or consent, calling the program “clearly unethical.”
In a joint statement issued Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, released in English and Spanish, the government apologized to Guatemala and to those involved in the study, conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) between 1946 and 1948.
The results of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study were uncovered by a Wellesley College researcher, Susan Reverby.
The story is uncomfortably similar to the “Tuskegee” Syphilis Study in the 1960s, in which the PHS monitored, but did not treat, hundreds of African American men suffering from syphilis.
Unlike that case, however, subjects in the Guatemala study were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases, and then given penicillin, to help determine the efficacy of the drug to cure or even vaccinate against STDs.
Reverby wrote that the Guatemala syphilis inoculation project was run by a PHS physician, Dr. John C. Cutler (who would later oversee the Tuskegee, Ala., study two decades later).
The study’s doctors chose as subjects men incarcerated at the Guatemala National Penitentiary, as well as army service members, and men and women confined in the National Mental Health Hospital. There was a total of 696 people in the study. Guatemalan authorities (and not the individuals themselves) granted permission, in exchange for supplies.
According to Reverby, who studied Cutler’s records in the University of Pittsburgh archives, doctors used infected prostitutes to pass the disease on to prisoners (conjugal visits were allowed in Guatemalan jails). Direct inoculations of syphilis bacteria were made to other subjects. Treatment by penicillin was also administered, though not always successfully.
Cutler seemed to recognize the delicate ethical quandaries their experiments posed, particularly in the wake of the Nuremberg “Doctors’ Trials,” and was concerned about secrecy. “As you can imagine,” Cutler reported to his PHS overseer, “we are holding our breaths, and we are explaining to the patients and others concerned with but a few key exceptions, that the treatment is a new one utilizing serum followed by penicillin. This double talk keeps me hopping at time.”
Cutler also wrote that he feared “a few words to the wrong person here, or even at home, might wreck it or parts of it … ”
PHS physician R.C. Arnold, who supervised Cutler, was more troubled, confiding to Cutler, “I am a bit, in fact more than a bit, leery of the experiment with the insane people. They can not give consent, do not know what is going on, and if some goody organization got wind of the work, they would raise a lot of smoke. I think the soldiers would be best or the prisoners for they can give consent.”
Apparently difficulties in transmission, as well as in replicating results, added to concerns over the study, and it was dropped after two years.
Cutler went on to participate in another Syphilis Study at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, N.Y. (although in that case the subjects were informed about the nature of the inoculations administered to them).
“Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health,” today’s State Dept./DHS statement said. “We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices.
“The conduct exhibited during the study does not represent the values of the United States, or our commitment to human dignity and great respect for the people of Guatemala. The study is a sad reminder that adequate human subject safeguards did not exist a half-century ago.”
The officials also announced an investigation into the specifics of the case from 1946, and will also convene a meeting of international experts to devise methods that effectively ensure all human medical research meets rigorous ethical standards.
October 1, 2010
In one, a sailor who had fallen overboard was apparently revived by filling his lungs with tobacco smoke, while another tried to deliberately infect subjects with sexually transmitted diseases.
A Royal Navy surgeon claimed James Calloway, unconscious seaman, who was thought to have drowned was brought back by fumes from a pipe.
Along with tobacco, medics on board naval vessels, emigrant ships and convict transport in the 19th century relied on a range of treatments including alcohol, blood-letting and various natural remedies in a bid to restore the health of their patients.
On January 19 1802 Calloway, a seaman aged 40, was treated on the HMS Princess Royal.
Surgeon Ben Lara wrote: ”Brought on board an appearance of a corpse – he had fallen over the bows of the launch, which passed over him with a smart breeze, another boat endeavouring to assist, also drove him under water.
”He emerged and was again sinking when dragged into the boat.
”He was about 12 minutes in the water and 20 minutes elapsed before he was brought aboard.”
The sailor was stripped and laid on a warm bed in the galley where he was ”rubbed dry” with cloths and sack.
”He proceeded in this mode for a quarter of an hour without effect,” Mr Lara reported in documents held at the National Archives in Kew.
”Being compelled to relinquish the advantage of the galley he was removed into the bay – here on a warm bed. Bottles with hot water, were put under his hands, armpits and to the feet.
”Pewter plates heated and defended with flannel were placed along the spine.
”Tobacco smoke was conveyed to the lungs through the tube of a common pipe.
”In three quarters of an hour from his removal to the bay I observed an obscure palpitation of the heart – the tobacco smoke was urged.
”In ten minutes from this he sighed faintly and closed his mouth.
”The smoke was continued. He coughed, pulse at the wrist was evident.”
An hour and 20 minutes after being pulled from the water, the patient managed to speak and swallow two spoonfuls of brandy and water, according to the surgeon.
Mr Lara added: ”In four hours from our first applications he was perfectly collected.”
The sailor recovered and was cleared to return to duty on February 7 1802 but the surgeon warns: ”From his general appearance, which I do not find it easy to describe, I think a favourable termination to be very problematical.”
Another ”experiment”, was conducted on a young woman with a venereal disease – a common problem at sea, according to a surgeon on HMS Gladiator. Both the woman’s ”keeper” and an officer had ”connexion” with her to see how gonorrhoea and syphilis were spread, the documents reveal.
November 20, 2009
The Washington Post
By Ron Stein
Scientists in Norway have identified a mutated form of the swine flu virus that is raising concern because it was found in two patients who died of the flu and a third who was severely ill with the disease, officials announced Friday.
In a statement, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said the mutation “could possibly make the virus more prone to infect deeper in the airways and thus cause more severe disease,” such as pneumonia.
Scientists have analyzed about 70 viruses from confirmed Norwegian swine flu cases and found the mutation in only those three patients, Geir Stene-Larsen, the institute’s director general, said in the statement.
“Based on what we know so far, it seems that the mutated virus does not circulate in the population, but might be a result of spontaneous changes which have occurred in these three patients,” the statement said.
The institute has been analyzing H1N1 virus from “a number of patients as part of the surveillance of the pandemic flu virus,” and has detected several mutations, the statement said. While the existence of mutations is normal, and most “will probably have little or no importance . . . one mutation has caught special interest.”
The two patients who had the mutation and died were the first swine flu fatalities in Norway. The third patient found to have the mutated form of the virus also became severely ill.
The institute said there was no indication that the mutation would hinder the ability of the vaccine to protect people from becoming infected or impair the effectiveness of antiviral drugs in treating people who became infected.
Officials from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not immediately be reached for comment.
Several flu experts said that the mutation should not cause widespread alarm. “Influenza is a mutable virus, and changes are to be expected,” said Arnold S. Monto of the University of Michigan in an e-mail. “This is typical early in the spread of a pandemic virus.”
Scientists around the world have been tracking the virus carefully for any signs that it had mutated into a more dangerous form. While a variety of mutations have been detected, most have not appeared to have affected the virus in any way. There have been some mutations that make the virus more resistant to antiviral drugs, experts said, but — like the mutation that may cause more severe illness — those, too, seem self-contained.
“It is, at the moment, reassuring that this appears not to be spreading,” said William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University. He said mutations that make episodes of swine flu more severe are most dangerous only if they are “easily transmissible.” “That’s a different characteristic,” Schaffner said. “And apparently that does not appear to have happened to this virus. It does not seem to be spreading in the general population.”