By Emily Senger - Friday, November 23, 2012 - 0 Comments
The World Health Organization is raising alarm after a virus similar to SARS has…
The World Health Organization is raising alarm after a virus similar to SARS has now killed two people in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, says a report from Reuters.
An update posted by the WHO Friday says that novel coronavirus, which was originally identified in September, has now killed one additional man in Qatar and has infected three additional people in Saudi Arabia.
The 49-year-old man who died in Qatar had travelled to Saudi Arabia before he got sick, says Reuters.
Friday’s statement from the WHO says there are probably more cases of novel coronavirus than have been reported.
“Until more information is available, it is prudent to consider that the virus is likely more widely distributed than just the two countries which have identified cases,” it says.
By Julia Belluz - Friday, August 31, 2012 at 3:31 PM - 0 Comments
The morning started late at the United Nations conference centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On the gated compound—surrounded by muddy roads, and a mash-up of steel huts, unfinished buildings and Western-style hotels—it was day one of a World Health Organization forum about how to get better evidence into health policy-making.
Science-ish had travelled to the Horn of Africa to talk about the role media can play in divulging information about health research and holding policymakers to account when they ignore or misuse it.
The room suddenly filled with some 50 delegates from all over Africa and the world—Zambia, Nigeria, Malawi, the U.S., Great Britain, the Sudan. Most of them have been working for the better part of the last decade on tools and methods to ensure that high-quality research gets out of the ivory tower and makes its way into policy and the realm of public knowledge.
After the translators readied themselves to connect us through our many languages, the meeting began. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it quickly became clear that reporters and researchers working on getting the evidence message across in this region face a number of unique challenges. One journalist from Ethiopia asked about how to start a national professional group for reporters because none exists here and the state controls the media. A researcher from South Africa said reporters in her country routinely botch health stories because there are few dedicated journalists who understand the beat. A Sudanese health columnist told Science-ish that everything she writes has to be vetted by government officials before it goes to print; words they don’t like get cut. “I will still write it anyway,” she said defiantly, adding that the government of Omar al-Bashir recently sanctioned a colleague for speaking out. “Now he sits in the corner of the newsroom, silent.”
By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 10:49 AM - 0 Comments
Radiation can give life and take it away. Sunlight, therapy to kill malignant tumors, powerful x-rays, and radio waves are all forms of radiation. Lately, much has been made of the health risks related to another source of invisible waves: WiFi.
In recent years, politicians and leaders in the health field have tried to do something about the perceived threat of exposure to radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields, on which WiFi, cell phone networks, radio signals, microwave ovens, and cordless home phones depend. Public fears about RF fields may have hit a fever pitch when, last summer, the World Health Organization designated them as a “possibly carcinogenic” agent—alongside others like coffee—for which evidence of harm is uncertain. Since then, we’ve heard our nation’s doctors raise concerns about the health risks related to cell phones; politicians, such as Elizabeth May, warn publicly about the potential harms posed by WiFi; and frightened parents say they’d move their children away from the invisible threat, as schools impose bans on wireless internet.
But what do we actually know about the health effects of RF exposure—and, in particular, the health risks related to WiFi?
Different technologies give off different amounts of radiation, explained Dr. Patrizia Frei (PhD), a research fellow at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, who has conducted reviews on the health effects of RF exposure. “While mobile phones cause mostly localized exposure to the head,” she said, “WiFi usually causes far-field whole-body exposures which are usually much lower.” According to the UK’s Health Protection Agency, “the signals are very low power, typically 0.1 watt (100 milliwatts) in both the computer and the router (access point), and the results so far show exposures are well within the internationally-accepted guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.”
By Andrew Potter - Monday, December 13, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 102 Comments
The tinfoil hat is now thoroughly mainstream garb
As the cholera outbreak in Haiti continues to worsen, the population is getting increasingly desperate. In some areas, mobs have embarked on genuine witch hunts, attacking people accused of using black magic to deliberately spread the disease. At least 12 people suspected of being witches were stoned or hacked to death last week, their corpses dragged into the street and burned.
Haiti’s descent into superstition in the face of chaos might afford us a few drops of condescension to mix with our pity at the country’s fate. But it bears keeping in mind that when it comes to confronting fears, Canadians are no less prone to fits of magical thinking.
For example, back in October, parents at an elementary school in Ontario voted overwhelmingly to ban WiFi in the classroom*. Were the parents concerned that surfing the Net during class might be bad for learning? No, they were reacting to symptoms reported by their kids that included dizziness, nausea, and headaches, and which mysteriously disappeared on weekends and holidays. Deftly elbowing past the obvious explanation—going to school makes most kids want to barf—parents concluded that the in-school wireless must be to blame. And so out went the Internet routers, despite assurances from the province’s chief medical officer that they posed absolutely no threat to students.
By Josh Dehaas - Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Testing kits could help discourage children from taking the drugs in the first place
A municipal council in the Netherlands wants to help parents find out whether their children are using drugs. So Edam-Volendam (where the famous Edam cheese is made) will supply 1,500 home testing kits for parents with children aged 15 to 19. The kits can find traces of cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates and PCP, among other illicit drugs, in saliva. The aim is to address the town’s drug problem, which is the fourth highest in the province of North Holland.
Councillor Gina Kroon-Sombroek told Radio Netherlands that the kits could help discourage children from taking the drugs in the first place. “Parents can say, ‘I’ve got that test, so bear in mind you can be tested.’ Our hope is that it’ll stop young people experimenting with drugs,” said Kroon-Sombroek. Interestingly, despite a liberal drug policy, young people in the Netherlands consume far less drugs than other teens. A 2008 study by the World Health Organization found that only 35 per cent of Netherlanders had used cannabis by the age of 21, compared to 54 per cent of Americans. As for the test, Edam-Volendam’s council said it will be easy for parents to use. That may be true, assuming they can convince their teenagers to provide a saliva sample on demand.
By Sarah Elton - Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
What do the stories of a million Indian deaths say about global health? A Toronto researcher aims to find out.
On a cool day a few years ago in a village in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, a group of government workers approached a thatched-roof hut. They had learned that a young man in his late 30s had died there several months earlier, and they wanted to ask his family some questions. How did he die? Had he been sick? In India, a medical examination or certiﬁcate of death isn’t required before burying or cremating a corpse, and so the workers were conducting a kind of verbal autopsy.
As the young man’s father told them the story—his son had developed a cough, then become sicker until he had trouble breathing—a few children and then a couple of older neighbours gathered around. His son had started smoking at age 10, the man said, but they didn’t know exactly what had killed him, only that he was in the hospital for three days before he died.
By Michael Friscolanti and Cathy Gulli - Monday, November 16, 2009 at 8:00 AM - 34 Comments
Can Canada’s vaccination plan be fixed before it’s too late?
Canada is barely a few weeks into the biggest mass immunization campaign in the nation’s history, and by now everyone has heard—or worse, lived—a ﬂu shot horror story. “It’s been chaotic,” admits Dr. David Scheifele, director of the Vaccine Evaluation Centre in Vancouver, which is associated with the B.C. Children’s Hospital. His own experience is no exception. Recently, Scheifele ordered nurses at his hospital to administer the pandemic H1N1 vaccine to the highest priority health care workers, those in the emergency room, intensive care unit, and labour and delivery area. He knew there was a limited supply of shots, so nurses visited the targeted groups with a mobile cart. “We thought that was really smart. No advertising. This was a sensible way to interact with the people who needed the vaccines.”
But pandemonium erupted. “Legions of people were basically crashing the party,” he recalls, including non-priority clerical and medical staff. There was such a “clamour” and so many “irate people incensed that they were being turned away” that the nurses had to return the next day with a security guard. “It is preposterous, the notion that nurses delivering a vaccine would be mobbed and fear for their safety,” he says. “Who could ever have imagined a scenario like that?” Continue…
By Cathy Gulli - Monday, October 19, 2009 at 11:26 AM - 234 Comments
Everyone needs the H1N1 vaccine. Few plan to get it. What you need to know. What you need to do.
In a few weeks, every adult in Canada will decide if they (and their children) will get the ﬂu vaccine to protect against H1N1. At the best of times, it seems the decision of whether or not to get the seasonal ﬂu shot is tough to make. Only about one-third of Canadians do each year. Now, with the pandemic vaccine arriving in doctor’s ofﬁces in November, Canadians are being asked to get a second shot this fall.
But will they? Probably not. A recent poll shows that, as of the ﬁrst week of October, only one in three Canadians plan on getting the H1N1 vaccine, according to Harris/Decima. That’s down from 45 per cent in late August. Experts say this reﬂects the public’s growing apathy toward the pandemic in light of seemingly contradictory information about H1N1 (which is commonly referred to as swine ﬂu, even though it’s a combination of ﬂu viruses from pigs, birds and humans). People are being bombarded by “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” studies and recommendations. “There is confusion,” says Dr. Sarah Kredentser, president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. “And I think it’s warranted confusion, because the messages keep changing.” Continue…
By Adnan R. Khan - Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
For those displaced by Pakistan’s fighting, the camps are a cauldron of despair, corruption, and extremist recruiting
It’s a scene of confusion: weeping children and distraught mothers, gangs of men aimlessly wandering the dusty footpaths of what is supposed to be a place of refuge. The occasional military helicopter circles in a wide arc over the sprawling Sheik Yasin camp for Pakistan’s displaced in Mardan, 110 km northwest of the capital Islamabad. Checkpoints at the camp’s entrance are a stern warning that this is no ordinary refugee facility—there is danger here.
Further north, in the Swat Valley, war of a kind most Pakistanis have never seen before is raging on the streets of Mingora. It’s the largest city in Swat, and the epicentre of the battle between Taliban militants and the Pakistani army to win control of the picturesque valley and, potentially, Pakistan’s future. This is brutal urban warfare—street by street, house by house—with the city now fractured into areas controlled by the Taliban and areas taken by the military. Caught in-between are civilians, as many as 20,000 left in Mingora, with no chance to escape and basic supplies like food and water running out.
By Michael Friscolanti - Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 5:47 PM - 6 Comments
The World Health Organization is bracing us for the worst.
Every year, influenza kills up to half-a-million people around the world. In Canada alone, the flu’s annual death toll is close to 4,000. That’s eleven funerals per day. The current “swine flu” outbreak is nowhere near those levels. At last check, the fatalities (both confirmed and suspected) totaled 159, and although thousands of others have fallen ill with coughs and headaches and nasty muscle pains, most of the reported cases are in the “mild” category. In fact, many patients have already recovered. So why is the world bracing for a potential pandemic? What makes this particular flu so scary? Fear of the unknown. Continue…