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Posts Tagged ‘health

“Law; an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community”*…

 

vaccination

 

In the fall of 1713, measles struck the city of Boston, where Cotton Mather, a Puritan theologian and pastor, lived with his pregnant wife and numerous children. Within a month, his wife, their twin newborn babies, another child, and their maidservant had all died. On November 12, Mather wrote in his journal, “The epidemical Malady began upon this Town, is like to pass thro’ the Countrey. . . . it [might] be a service unto the public, to insert in the News-paper, a brief Direction for the managing of the sick. I will advise with a Physician or two.” On November 21, he wrote, “Lord I am oppressed; undertake for me!” On November 23, he wrote, “My poor Family is now left without any Infant in it, or any under seven Years of Age.”

Eight years later, when an explosive smallpox epidemic threatened Boston’s population of eleven thousand, Mather became an outspoken advocate for a new prophylactic against the virus: inoculation. Dr. William Douglass, one of the few doctors in town with a medical degree, rallied others to oppose Mather, claiming that the method was untested (which was true, at least in the new colony) and that it jeopardized the lives of all those who received it. In young Boston, the fight over inoculation tore at epidemic-addled nerves. In November 1721, a bomb was thrown through Mather’s window. A letter attached to it read, “Cotton Mather, you dog, dam you! I’ll inoculate you with this; with a pox to you.”

Douglass won out, quashing Mather’s plans for a systematic inoculation of the town’s population. Eight hundred and forty-four people died of the virus, accounting for 75 percent of all deaths in Boston that year. The unexploded bomb on Mather’s floorboards disabuses those of us living in 2019 of the impression—generated over the past two years by endless news stories about the current global measles outbreak—that inoculation controversies are a novel feature of our present hyper-mediated, hyper-politicized time.

Measles was considered to be eliminated in the United States in 2000. Still, the virus has regained extraordinary ground—and claimed an increasing number of lives—in recent years. Seven hundred and four cases were reported in the United States in the first four months of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The count reached 1,077 by mid-June, occurring in twenty-eight states. More than six hundred cases have occurred in New York City alone since September of 2018.

In June, the CDC issued a warning to travelers planning to leave the country, by which point outbreaks were occurring in all the places you’d expect, countries beset by depressed economies, poor public health management, war, or extreme poverty, including Ethiopia, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Sudan, and Georgia (not the U.S. state, although cases have been reported there as well). But also, cases were appearing in countries where entrenched vaccination systems existed and where measles had been thought largely a disease of the past: Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy.

The grand cause for these infections—and for the 300 percent growth of reported measles cases around the world in the first quarter of the year over the same quarter the previous year—is precisely the absence of what Cotton Mather proposed for 1721-era Boston: systematic vaccination of the population. The more interesting question, beyond simple international vaccination logistics, is: What ideological and historical shifts have allowed the reemergence of a disease once believed to be under controlled decline?…

A history of the debates over vaccination that asks, can the social contract be protected from a measles outbreak?: “Herd Immunity.”

* Thomas Aquinas

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As we pull up our sleeves, we might send healing birthday greetings to Giovanni Maria Lancisi; he was born on this date in 1654.  A doctor (he was personal physician to three popes), epidemiologist (he made the correlation between mosquitoes and malaria), and anatomist (his study of the heart resulted in the eponymous Lancisi’s sign), he is considered the first modern hygienist.

He carried out extensive anatomical and physiological studies, also epidemiology studies on malaria, influenza and cattle plague.  Contrary to the then-traditional conception of “mal’ aria ” – literally, “bad air” – Lancisi observed that the lethal fever, malaria, disappeared when the swamps near to the city were cleared.  He concluded that injurious substances transmitted from flies and mosquitoes were the origin of the disease.

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Written by LW

October 26, 2019 at 1:01 am

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

mosquito

 

A month after the opening salvos of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the newly appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Wash­ington, had a request for his political masters in the Continental Con­gress. He urged them to buy up as much cinchona bark and quinine powder as possible. Given the dire financial pressures of the squabbling colonial government, and the dearth of pretty much everything needed to fight a war, his total allotment was a paltry 300 pounds. General Washington was a frequent visitor to the quinine chest as he suffered from recurrent bouts (and reinfection) of malaria since first contracting the disease in 1749 at the age of seventeen.

Luckily for the Americans, the British were also drastically short of Peruvian Spanish-supplied quinine throughout the war. In 1778, shortly before they entered the fray in support of the American cause, the Spanish cut off this supply completely. Any available stores were sent to British troops in India and the Caribbean. At the same time, the mosquito’s mer­ciless, unrelenting strikes on unseasoned British troops lacking quinine during the final British southern campaign — launched in 1780 with the capture of Charleston, the strategic port city and mosquito sanctuary­ — determined the fate of the United States of America.

As J. R. McNeill colorfully contours, ‘The argument here is straight­forward: In the American Revolution the British southern campaigns ultimately led to defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 in part because their forces were much more susceptible to malaria than were the American. . . . [T]he balance tipped because Britain’s grand strategy committed a larger proportion of the army to malarial (and yellow fever) zones.’ A full 70% of the British Army that marched into this southern mosquito maelstrom in 1780 was recruited from the poorer, famished regions of Scotland and the northern counties of England, outside the malaria belt of Pip’s Fenland marshes. Those who had already served some time in the colonies had done so in the northern zone of infection and had not yet been seasoned to American malaria.

General Washington and the Continental Congress, on the other hand, had the advantage of commanding acclimated, malaria-seasoned colonial troops. American militiamen had been hardened to their sur­roundings during the Seven Years’ War and the turbulent decades head­ing toward open hostilities against their king. Washington personally recognized, albeit short of scientific affirmation or medical endorsement, that with his recurrent malarial seasonings, ‘I have been protected be­yond all human probability or expectation.’ While they did not know it at the time, this might well have been the Americans’ only advantage over the British when, after twelve years of seething resentment and discontent since the passing of the Royal Proclamation [of 1763 that prohibited land sales to colonists], war suddenly and unexpectedly came.

The Americans’ secret weapon– an excerpt from Timothy C. Winegard’s Mosquito: A Human History of of our Deadliest Predator: “George Washington, Mosquitoes, and the American Revolution.”

[via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com]

* Dalia Lama XIV

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As we douse ourselves in DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781– before the fall of Yorktown, but after a decisive week of fighting– that General George Washington wrote to the President of the Continental Congress to give an account of the recent action.  Three days later the Siege of Yorktown (as it became known) ended with the surrender of British forces under General Cornwallis.  It was the final major land battle of the Revolutionary War; the capture of Cornwallis and his army prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.

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Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull

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“I only fear danger where I want to fear it”*…

 

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The third annual International World Extreme Sports Medicine Congress confirmed our collective willingness to wreck ourselves in pursuit of stoke.

Global experts on how outdoor athletes stumble, trip, twist, crash, snap, pop, tear, and occasionally croak in hard-to-reach places convened in Boulder, courtesy of the University of Colorado’s sports medicine department. The mission? Bring practitioners up to speed on the many methods we’ve invented to destroy our bodies, so they can be prepared when they wheel in another human pretzel in a helmet…

An example of the findings that surfaced:

Seventy-two percent of BASE jumpers have witnessed a death or a severe injury.

Heard: Reporter had to depart before the question “are BASE jumpers insane?” was resolved. But we’re going with “yeah.”

More injurious insights at “19 Lessons I Learned from Extreme Sports Pros.”

* Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

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As we take it to the max, we might recall that it was on this date that “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias won the 1954 U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship.  Successful in in golf, basketball, baseball, and track and field (a double Gold Medalist at the 1932 Olympic Games), she is considered one of the greatest female athletes of all time.  She is surely also one of the most committed:  she had missed the 1953 Women’s Open, undergoing surgery for colon cancer; she was still in recovery when she took the title the next year.  Sadly, she relapsed and missed the chance to defend her title in 1955, as she was back in surgery; she died of her cancer in 1956.

250px-Babe_Didrikson_Zaharias_1938cr source

 

Written by LW

July 3, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable”*…

 

 click here for enlargeable version of the full chart

For most of civilized history, life expectancy fluctuated in the 30 to 40 year range.

Child mortality was all too common, and even for those that made it to adulthood, a long and healthy life was anything but guaranteed. Sanitation was poor, disease was rampant, and many medical practices were based primarily on superstition or guesswork.

By the 20th century, an explosion in new technologies, treatments, and other science-backed practices helped to increase global life expectancy at an unprecedented rate.

From 1900 to 2015, global life expectancy more than doubled, shooting well past the 70 year mark.

What were the major innovations that made the last century so very fruitful in saving lives?…  Interestingly, while many of these innovations have some linkage to the medical realm, there are also breakthroughs in sectors like energy, sanitation, and agriculture that have helped us lead longer and healthier lives…

See the list in full, along with a nifty infographic, at “The 50 Most Important Life-Saving Breakthroughs in History.”

Readers will note that “history” for these folks seems to start in the 19th century… so that one doesn’t find, for instance, the development of domestication or the invention of the plow.  And even then, one could quibble: surely, for example, the understanding of contagious diseases, epidemiology, and medical statistics/cartography that flowed from Dr. John Snow’s mapping of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London belongs on the list.  Still, it’s provocative to ponder.

* Joesph Wood Krutch

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As we realize, with Krutch, that will the sweet comes the bitter, we might spare a thought for Rachel Carson; she died on this date in 1964.  A pioneering environmentalist, her book The Silent Spring— a study of the long-term dangers of pesticide use– challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind relates to the natural world.

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
– Rachel Carson

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Written by LW

April 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I just saw some idiot at the gym put a water bottle in the Pringles holder on the treadmill”*…

 

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Like millions of other people, I put a fair amount of effort into “being healthy.”  I don’t smoke, try to eat a reasonable diet, and so forth.  I do all of this with the backing of a strong scientific consensus that such behaviors are likely to be very good for my health and longevity.  None of this makes me special in any way; I am trying to follow what one might call the medical truth of health.

What I want to suggest here is that there is a dark underside to all that healthy behavior. The underside is that the healthy behavior encourages the view that individuals are largely responsible for their own health outcomes, and that if people end up unhealthy or diseased, it’s their fault for not having engaged in sufficiently healthy behaviors.  Call this a “social truth” of health.  This social truth has real consequences. On the one hand, if individuals are to blame for their poor health, then they should bear a lot of the cost of their disease.  After all, there is a sense in which they “chose” to be sick because of their unhealthy lifestyle.  On the other hand, policies designed to create healthier environments or at reducing structural factors associated with poor health outcomes, like poverty, start to seem less important.

“Healthism,” as a prescient article from 1980 called it, has been a growing part of the American social landscape since the 1970’s, when jogging emerged as a fitness trend.  The rise of healthism coincides with the rise of neoliberalism, a loosely-grouped set of policies that aim at analyzing all parts of society in economic terms, expanding the reach of actual markets, encouraging competitive behavior between individuals, and encouraging people to view their lives in entrepreneurial terms (for example, treating education as an investment the value of which is measured in terms of its probable future returns in the form of higher income). Because of the focus on individuals and market behaviors, neoliberal governance tends not to see systemic or public problems except insofar as they can be reduced to the problems of individuals…

It is in this context that we need to see our healthy lifestyles and the dilemma they pose.  It is obvious that those who have the good fortune and the means can and should want to be healthy, for its own sake.  On the other hand, the effort to be healthy directly feeds a narrative that says that poor health is the product of poor management, in the way that poor returns on financial investments might be.  No one is ever simply “healthy;” even health today may hide illness to come, future illness that must be detected and prevented.

The problem is that the wellness narrative causes us to over-estimate the degree to which it is fair to blame individuals for their health outcomes…

The importance of separating what is an individually-healthy behavior from good health policy: “Is Your Healthy Lifestyle Bad For You?

* meme

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As we emphasize empathy, we might recall that it was on this date in 1850 that the first classes were held at The Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, the second medical school in the U.S. exclusively for women.  (The New England Female Medical College had been established two years earlier.)  It soon changed its name to The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, then much later was renamed as The Medical College of Pennsylvania after opening its doors to men in 1970.

The school’s first building

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Written by LW

October 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Everything has a time of being – a birth, a life span, and a death”*…

 

In 2014, the United States ranked 41st in the world in life expectancy, with an average American expected to live to age 78. But, like most averages, that doesn’t paint the whole picture. Life expectancy is more like Norway’s in some parts of the country and more like Kazakhstan’s in others.

That’s why it’s more useful to look at it county by county…

An interactive map that allows one to do exactly that: “How life expectancy in U.S. counties compares to other countries.”

*Dixie Lee Ray

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As we take our vitamins, we might send carefully-conserved birthday greetings to Gifford Pinchot; he was born on this date in 1865.  An American forester, he became the first chief of the Forest Service in 1905.  By 1910, with President Theodore Roosevelt’s backing, he built 60 forest reserves covering 56 million acres into 150 national forests covering 172 million acres.  Roosevelt’s successor, President Taft– no environmentalist– fired Pinchot.  Still Pinchot’s efforts earned him the honorific, “the father of conservation.”

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Written by LW

August 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The man who invented doritos has passed away at the age of 97. He asked to be buried with the creators of Fritos and Cheetos in a variety pack”*…

 

All told, there are 26 separate ingredients in Doritos Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips…

While most of these individual ingredients aren’t all that bad for us, they’re a cheese-dust-covered grenade when consumed together. “The more you mess with food, the more you’re demanding your immune system to figure out what the heck all these new things are — and it can make mistakes,” Shanahan says. For instance, studies show that over-processed foods have contributed to the rise in food allergies in Western countries.

Weirdly, while the ingredients that sound like they’d be unhealthy (i.e., disodium inosinate) aren’t really all that bad, the ingredients we think we recognize (i.e., vegetable oils) are slowly waging the real war on our insides. “The main thing people need to pay attention to are the first few ingredients in these foods, like vegetable oil,” Shanahan urges. “Vegetable oils alone can cause diabetes, and they don’t even contain any sugar.”

All 26 ingredients in America’s favorite cheese-flavored chip, singly and as a whole, explained:  “What’s in This?: Doritos Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips.”

* Jimmy Fallon

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As we wipe our fingers, we might send apocalyptic birthday greetings to The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus; he was born on this date in 1766.  An English cleric and scholar, he was influential both in political economy and demography.  He is best remembered for his 1798 essay on population growth, in which he argued that population multiplies geometrically and food arithmetically; thus, whenever the food supply increases, population will rapidly grow to eliminate the abundance, leading inevitably to disastrous results – famine, disease and/or war… a conclusion that remains controversial to this day.

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Written by LW

February 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

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