Medicine

Has your doctor recommended you go for regular jogs in the park, countryside walks, community food growing sessions, or some other nature-based activity? These so-called “green prescriptions” are typically given alongside conventional therapies and have existed in various forms for a number of years. In recognition of the potential health benefits of green prescriptions, the UK government has just announced a £4 million investment in a two-year pilot as part of its post-COVID-19 recovery plan, with plans to scale up in the future. There is increasing evidence of the benefits of contact with…
A new trial has begun in Victoria this week to evaluate a potential vaccine against COVID-19. The vaccine is called NVX-CoV2373 and is from a US biotech company, Novavax. The trial will be carried out across Melbourne and Brisbane, and is the first human trial of a vaccine specifically for COVID-19 to take place in Australia. This vaccine is actually based on a vaccine that was already in development for influenza. But how might it work against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19? What’s in the mix? Vaccines trigger an immune response by introducing the cells of our immune…
"You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is." These were the words of Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at his briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. He made the statement in a bid to underscore the need to test many more people as key to containing the spread of the disease. Ordinarily, that makes sense and I would agree with it. It is the right thing to do in the face of a disease which would show mild to no symptoms in the majority of those that are infected but does not inhibit their ability to infect others.…
Is the coronavirus a pandemic, and does that matter? 4 questions answered The new coronavirus has now affected more than 20,000 people in China and claimed more lives as of Feb. 4 than the SARS epidemic from 2002 to 2004. Hong Kong has reported its first death. Some public health officials have said the outbreak is likely to soon be a pandemic, but the World Health Organization said Feb. 4 that it isn’t, yet. Just what is a pandemic anyway? An epidemiologist and public health researcher explains. 1. What is a pandemic? When a disease outbreak, or epidemic, crosses international boarders…
A new study finds an easy way to reduce the spread of many infectious diseases, from coronavirus to influenza; washing hands more frequently in just 10 airports.  Though the findings were published in late December, just before the recent coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, the study's authors say that its results would apply to any such disease and are relevant to the current outbreak. The methods included epidemiological and data-based simulations. People can be surprisingly casual about washing their hands, even in crowded locations like airports where people from many different…
A recent paper, "Higher U.S. Rural Mortality Rates Linked To Socioeconomic Status, Physician Shortages, And Lack Of Health Insurance," published in Health Affairs Journal, seeks to explain differences in rural and urban people when it comes to mortality, but also rank states using county level data on outcomes and health care access. The study focused on five explanatory variables within each county: socioeconomic (e.g., poverty status, access to housing and education, employment), uninsured rates, the supply of and access to primary care physicians, the percentage of racial or ethnic groups…
With a new infectious disease outbreak on our doorstep, we might ask ourselves: are we reacting to the coronavirus in a way that is proportional to the threat? The problem is that when it comes to infectious disease epidemics, we have a strong tendency to overreact emotionally and under-react behaviorally. The overreaction aspect may be attributable to the fact that we are primed to fear infectious diseases appearing suddenly within our population, in the same way that we are evolutionarily prepared to fear snakes and spiders. Most of us fear snakes and spiders without ever having been…
OSHA took the long road to adopt a standard to address respirable crystalline silica. Although the final rule was issued in March 2016, it is being challenged by both industry and labor groups. The first says OSHA went too far, the other says OSHA didn’t go far enough. The long road, however may be coming close to end. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments last week from parties that are challenging the rule. Judges Merrick Garland, David Tatel and Karen LeCraft Henderson spent more than two hours listening to arguments from the National Stone,…
Guns are the third leading cause of injury-related death in the country. Every year, nearly 12,000 gun homicides happen in the U.S., and for every person killed, two more are injured. Whether Congress will do anything about this violence is a whole other (depressing) article. But there is evidence that change is possible. Last year, a study published in Epidemiologic Reviews “systematically” reviewed studies examining the links between gun laws and gun-related homicides, suicides and unintentional injuries and deaths. Researchers eventually gathered evidence from 130 studies in 10 countries,…
Last week, I wrote about Rigvir, a highly dubious cancer therapy developed in Latvia. Rigvir is an oncolytic virus, and its proponents claim that it targets only cancer cells for destruction, leaving normal tissue alone. Its history and how it came to be approved in Latvia in 2004 and added to the Latvian Health Ministry's list of reimbursable medications in 2011 remain rather mysterious, but how it is being marketed does not. For example, Rigvir has become a new favorite treatment at a number of quack clinics, such as the Hope4Cancer Institute in Mexico, where Rigvir is offered along with…
Back in the day I used to do a weekly feature every Friday that I used to call Your Friday Dose of Woo. For purposes of the bit, woo consisted of particularly ridiculous or silly bits of pseudoscience, quackery, or mysticism, such as the Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface. Amazingly, I managed to keep that up for a couple of years, but over time I started sensing that I was getting a bit too repetitive. The same bits of pseudoscience kept recurring. Over time I had to dig more and more to find suitable bits of woo that amused me enough to inspire me to ever more over-the-top heights of…
The reason there wasn't a post yesterday is simple. The night before, I was feeling a bit under the weather. As a result, I went to bed early, neglecting my blogly responsibilities. As I result, I missed the release of a whopper of a study that normally would have been all over like...well...choose your metaphor. On the other hand, the one day delay isn't necessarily all bad because it lets me see the reaction of cranks to this study, the better to apply some not-so-Respectful Insolence to it. The crankiest of these cranks, of course, is Mike Adams, a grifter deep in the thrall of any form of…
A week ago, I wrote about a naturopath in Utah named Harry Adelson, who was advertising his use stem cells to treat lumbar and cervical disk problems, including degenerated and dehydrated disks. That alone was bad enough, but what elevated "Not-a-Dr." (my preferred translation of the "ND" that naturopaths like to use after their names to confuse patients because it's so close to "MD") Adelson above and beyond the usual naturopathic quackery is his cosplay of an interventional radiologist, in which he purchased a C-arm to use fluoroscopy to inject his "stem cells" right into the intervertebral…
As a medical blogger with a skeptical bent and a rather aggressive proclivity towards defending science-based medicine, I generally like STAT News. Sure, it's occasionally screwed up royally (e.g., its credulous false balance reporting on a patient of cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski named Neil Fachon), but in general it's usually a good source of medical news and analysis. No publication is perfect, of course, but STATNews is generally better than average, and I appreciate that. That's why I was disappointed to see how thoroughly a pharma-backed astroturf group whose mission is to loosen…
I write frequently about naturopathy here because, of all the dubious pseudoscientific medical "disciplines" out there, naturopathy (along with chiropractic) has achieved the most "respectability." Indeed, as I like to point out in my own specialty (breast cancer), the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) even admits naturopaths as members. Indeed, the immediate past president of SIO is a naturopath (and, depressingly, faculty at my medical alma mater, the University of Michigan), as was the SIO president in 2014. So entrenched are naturopaths in SIO that they have been prominent co-authors…
Across the country, federally qualified health centers provide a critical safety net, delivering needed medical care regardless of a person’s ability to pay. And so it’s worrisome when researchers document a sharp increase in dissatisfaction among the clinicians and staff who make those centers run. “We’re not sure why we saw things getting worse in the centers,” said Mark Friedberg, a senior natural scientist at Rand Corporation and director of their Boston office. “The best takeaway from this study is we need to track this. We need to get to the bottom of it because it is alarming.”…
I've frequently written about bogus stem cell clinics that use hard sell techniques to sell unproven and expensive "stem cell treatments" to desperate patients. For instance, I deconstructed the story claiming that hockey great Gordie Howe improved so markedly after a severe stroke, thanks to stem cells offered to him for free (because of his celebrity) by a dubious stem cell company (Stemedica) through its Mexican partner (Clínica Santa Clarita). The whole incident basically opened my eyes to just how unethical the for-profit stem cell clinic industry is, as clinics use hard sell techniques…
Yesterday I discussed a highly unethical clinical trial of a new herpes vaccine, based on what appears to be questionable science but backed by über-Libertarian Peter Thiel. The reason the trial is so unethical is because Rational Vaccines, the company that developed the herpes vaccine and is conducting the clinical trial, not only arranged to carry it out offshore but, unlike all American companies carrying out clinical trials offshore for purposes of gathering data to support an application for FDA approval, Rational Vaccines apparently carried the trial out without any oversight by an…
In the early 1980s in the wake of reports, publicized by a news report and later a book by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher (DPT: A Shot in the Dark), that the whole cell DPT vaccine was linked to encephalitis and brain damage, a flood of product liability lawsuits was on the verge of bringing the US vaccine program to its knees. Later studies exonerated the DPT, especially a large case-control study, but those studies did not come until the 1990s. Even though existing evidence at the time did not clearly support a link, it did not clearly rule one out. As a result vaccine manufacturers…
Poor Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He went from admired environmental activist to reviled antivaccine campaigner so quickly. It began when he outed himself in 2005 with his infamous conspiracy mongering screed about thimerosal in Salon.com and Rolling Stone. Basically, RFK Jr. is a member of what we used to call the mercury militia, a branch of the antivaccine movement that believes, more than anything else, that it is the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal that used to be in several childhood vaccines until 2002 drove an "epidemic" of autism. He's still a member, too, having recently…