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Posts Tagged ‘public health

“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems”*…

 

Beer

 

Of all the substances people intoxicate themselves with, alcohol is the least restricted and causes the most harm. Many illegal drugs are more dangerous to those who use them, but are relatively hard to obtain, which limits their impact. In contrast, alcohol is omnipresent, so far more people suffer from its adverse effects. In 2010 a group of drug experts scored the total harm in Britain caused by 20 common intoxicants and concluded that alcohol inflicted the greatest cost, mostly because of the damage it does to non-consumers such as the victims of drunk drivers…

No Western country has banned alcohol since America repealed Prohibition in 1933. It is popular and easy to produce. Making it illegal enriches criminals and starts turf wars. In recent years governments have begun legalising other drugs. Instead, to limit the harm caused by alcohol, states have tried to dissuade people from drinking, using taxes, awareness campaigns and limits on where, when and to whom booze is sold.

The alcohol industry has pitched itself as part of the solution. In Britain more than 100 producers and retailers have signed a “responsibility deal” and promised to “help people to drink within guidelines”, mostly by buying ads promoting moderation. However, if these campaigns were effective, they would ruin their sponsors’ finances. According to researchers from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, a think-tank, and the University of Sheffield, some two-fifths of alcohol consumed in Britain is in excess of the recommended weekly maximum of 14 units (about one glass of wine per day). Industry executives say they want the public to “drink less, but drink better”, meaning fewer, fancier tipples. But people would need to pay 22-98% more per drink to make up for the revenue loss that such a steep drop in consumption would cause.

Health officials have taken note of such arithmetic. Some now wonder if Big Booze is sincere in its efforts to discourage boozing. In 2018 America’s National Institutes of Health stopped a $100m study of moderate drinking, which was partly funded by alcohol firms, because its design was biased in their products’ favour. And this year the World Health Organisation and England’s public-health authority banned their staff from working with the industry…

alcohol

Governments are growing more suspicious of Big Booze: “Alcohol firms promote moderate drinking, but it would ruin them.”

See also “How much beer does your state drink? In the thirstiest, about 40 gallons a year per person,” source of the image at top.

* Homer Simpson

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As we muse on moderation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1944 that Harvey, a play by Mary Chase, opened on Broadway.  It ran for 1,775 performances and won the (1945) Pulitzer prize for Drama.  The story of a care-free dipsomaniac named Elwood P. Dowd, whose best friend was a “pooka” (an imaginary rabbit named Harvey), it was directed by Antoinette Perry– the actress, director, and co-founder of the American Theater Wing, for whom the Tony Awards are named.  It’s been regularly revived on-stage, and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film that starred Jimmy Stewart as Elwood.

220px-Harvey-FE-1953 source

 

Written by LW

November 1, 2019 at 1:01 am

“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.

250px-Giovanni_Maria_Lancisi source

 

 

Written by LW

October 26, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I lit a thin green candle to make you jealous of me, but the room just filled up with mosquitoes”*…

 

NewYorker_Mosquito_Vertical_v5

 

It turns out that, if you’re looking for them, the words “mosquitoes,” “fever,” “ague,” and “death” are repeated to the point of nausea throughout human history. (And before: … when the asteroid hit, dinosaurs were already in decline from mosquito-borne diseases.) Malaria laid waste to prehistoric Africa to such a degree that people evolved sickle-shaped red blood cells to survive it. The disease killed the ancient Greeks and Romans—as well as the peoples who tried to conquer them—by the hundreds of thousands, playing a major role in the outcomes of their wars. Hippocrates associated malaria’s late-summer surge with the Dog Star, calling the sickly time the “dog days of summer.” In 94 B.C., the Chinese historian Sima Qian wrote, “In the area south of the Yangtze the land is low and the climate humid; adult males die young.” In the third century, malaria epidemics helped drive people to a small, much persecuted faith that emphasized healing and care of the sick, propelling Christianity into a world-altering religion…

In total… mosquitoes have killed more people than any other single cause—fifty-two billion of us, nearly half of all humans who have ever lived. [They are] “our apex predator,” “the destroyer of worlds,” and “the ultimate agent of historical change.”…

They slaughtered our ancestors and derailed our history– and they’re not finished with us yet: “How Mosquitoes Changed Everything.”

* Leonard Cohen

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As we nestle under our nets, we might spare a thought for Girolamo Fracastoro; he died on this date in 1553.  A physician, poet, and scholar of mathematics, geography, and astronomy, he he proposed (in 1546) that epidemic diseases are caused by transferable tiny particles or “spores” that could transmit infection by direct or indirect contact or even without contact over long distances; he called these infectious agents fomes, from the Latin, meaning tinder.  His theory was influential for three centuries, until it was sufficiently refined and extended to become modern germ theory, which superseded Fracastoro’s model.

220px-Titian_Girolamo_Fracastoro

Girolamo Fracastoro, by Titian c. 1528

source

 

Written by LW

August 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

“An investment in knowledge almost always pays the best interest”*…

 

Agnes Scott

The Agnes Scott GE College Bowl team: Katherine Bell, Karen Gearreald, Malinda Snow, and Betty Butler

 

America’s anti-intellectualism can be traced through the decline in popularity of the American quiz show. Most viewers think of Jeopardy! as the peak of quizzing aspirations. But Jeopardy!, while challenging, is still geared toward the viewer, feeding the audience accessible clues and manageable categories.

Take a look at Britain’s University Challenge in comparison. The program, whose format is based on the midcentury GE College Bowl, is aggressively uncharismatic. The quiz itself is notoriously difficult, tasking contestants with identifying obscure Indian cities, deep-dive classical compositions, and even failed American vice presidential hopefuls. University Challenge is still wildly popular, anchoring a Sunday evening slot on BBC. While the college quiz bowl continues to exist in the U.S., American television stopped broadcasting the event in 1970.

It’s been said over the years that trivia skews male. The assumption is not that women are less intelligent; the assumption is that for various reasons—structural discrimination, biology, increased pressure—women aren’t as able to compete. But GE College Bowl knocked that assumption on its ass. Women’s colleges won time and again on the decadelong program, handily beating elite institutions.

Barnard College beat Notre Dame and the University of Southern California in 1959 before going on a five-game winning streak in the 1967–68 season. Bryn Mawr had its own four-game tear in ’67. Wellesley won four consecutive games in ’70. And Mount Holyoke won twice in ’66 before losing to Princeton.

And then, of course, there’s the Agnes Scott game, now legendary among quiz fans for its high stakes, for the wide gap in expectations for the two teams, and for a killer last-second comeback…

The story of the match-up between Agnes Scott and Princeton on the GE College Bowl in 1966: “The Greatest Upset in Quiz Show History.”

* Benjamin Franklin

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As we celebrate cerebral celerity, we might send healing birthday greetings to Susan LaFlesche Picotte; she was born on this date in 1865.  A doctor and reformer in the late 19th century, she is widely acknowledged as the first Native American to earn a medical degree.  Beyond her medical practice, she campaigned for public health and for the formal, legal allotment of land to members of the Omaha tribe.

Doctor.susan.la.flesche.picotte source

 

“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times”*…

Stalking Chernobyl

In recent years, the Zone, a highly restricted area in northern Ukraine that surrounds the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, has become a tourist hotspot. Each morning, tour buses queue at the entry checkpoint where a souvenir shop plastered with nuclear warning symbols peddles neon keyrings and radiation suits. The guides’ t-shirts read: “Follow me and you will survive”. In fact, the dangers are minimal. Along their tightly demarcated routes, these visitors will be exposed to less radiation than during a routine x-ray.

Existing in the shadows of this highly commodified industry is the secretive subculture of the “stalkers”: mostly young Ukrainian men who sneak into the Zone illegally to explore the vast wilderness on their own terms. The name originates from the 1972 Russian science fiction novel Roadside Picnic. Written by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, it tells the story of contaminated “zones” created on Earth by aliens, in which rogue stalkers roam, hoping to recover valuable alien technology. The book inspired Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 cult-classic film Stalker.

Beyond youthful rebellion, the motivations of the modern stalkers are complex, and speak to the national trauma that resulted from a tragedy whose effects will be felt for generations. And now there is another side to the practice. Enterprising stalkers have started offering their own “illegal tours” to travellers seeking a less restricted (and therefore more dangerous) experience of the Exclusion Zone. I joined one such tour in an effort to discover why visitors might chose a stalker over an official guide. Can a subculture that is so tied to deep wells of personal and national loss really offer something of value to an outsider?…

Accompany Aram Balakjian on a beautifully-photographed expedition through the forbidden area: “Into the Zone: 4 days inside Chernobyl’s secretive ‘stalker’ culture.”

* Uzbek proverb

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As we take the tour, we might recall that it was on this date in 2000, via an announcement by then Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, and after decades of denial, that a U.S. government study conceded that cancer and premature deaths of workers at 14 nuclear weapons plants since WW II were caused by radiation and chemicals.

nuke source

 

 

Written by LW

January 28, 2019 at 1:01 am

“That most potent of all sheets of paper, the ballot”*…

 

800px-The_County_Election,_Bingham,_1846

The County Election,” George Caleb Bingham, 1854.

 

Before there were paper ballots in America, there was the human voice. Per the viva voce system, a practice with roots in Ancient Greece, eligible voters would call out the names of their preferred candidates to a government clerk, who registered votes in a pollbook. Sometimes bodies would suffice: in Kentucky, until the early nineteenth century, some elections were decided by counting the number of supporters lined up on opposite sides of the road. In some colonies, people would cast their votes with corn and beans—corn for yea, beans for nay.

Though voting “by papers” gained in popularity during Colonial times, state governments made little effort to standardize ballots until the early nineteenth century. Ballots often required voters to write their preferred candidate’s name on a scrap of paper, which might only be counted if the name was legible and correctly spelled. By the end of the eighteen-twenties, the sheer number of elected offices became too much for a scribe to list, paving the way for the legalization of printed ballots provided by party workers and candidates themselves. As political parties grew and the lists of candidates became longer, the ballots began to resemble the timetables on railway tickets—hence the term “party ticket.”

Despite regulations in some states that required ballots to be printed in black ink on white paper, parties would use distinctive graphic layouts and production methods that allowed party enforcers to monitor voting by visually determining the allegiance of the voter…

On Election Day in nineteenth-century America, party enforcers actively sought out citizens to bribe or coerce. Campaigning often took place in the local taverns that doubled as polling locations. Votes could be bought with ready cash, a ladleful of rum, or even a set of plates. Party enforcers often employed a kidnapping strategy called “cooping,” in which drunk and indigent men were rounded up, locked away in a room until Election Day, and forced to visit polling sites to repeatedly vote for a candidate. Fake or counterfeit party ballots with some or all of the names of another party’s candidates were distributed to mislead the inattentive voter. When interrogated about election fraud, the infamous Boss Tweed once remarked that it wasn’t the ballots that rendered the result. It was the counters

Technological innovations have reshaped the secret-ballot system many times in the decades since. By 1920, gear-and-lever machines with privacy curtains were serving a growing, post-suffrage electorate as the official voting method in several states. From the late fifties to the early seventies, the struggle against discriminatory voting practices and a newly enfranchised youth population further increased the size of the electorate, creating a wider demand for punch-card voting machines, which allowed votes to be counted by a computer. In 2002, after the so-called hanging chad scandal of the 2000 Presidential election, federal funds helped spread the use of electronic voting machines that are still in use today

In this age of recrimination and recount, a look at the history of the ballot– with lots of fascinating pictorial examples: “This is what democracy looked like.”

* Philip Loring Allen

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As we fortify our franchise, we might recall that it was on this date in 1916 that Margaret Sanger, fresh back from a stint in the Raymond Street jail, reopened the Brownsville Clinic in Brooklyn, NY– the first birth control clinic in the U.S.  Sanger had been shut down and arrested before for obscenity (she offered a booklet called “What Every Young Woman Should Know,” explaining the female reproductive system and several contraceptive methods).  This time, the police leaned on her landlord to evict her, and the clinic closed almost as soon as it reopened.

Sanger (center) at the Brownsville Clinic

source

 

Written by LW

November 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Francie, huddled with other children of her kind, learned more that first day than she realized. She learned of the class system of a great Democracy.”*…

 

yellow fever

Engraving from a series of images titled “The Great Yellow Fever Scourge — Incidents Of Its Horrors In The Most Fatal District Of The Southern States.”

 

Some people say New Orleans is haunted because of witches. Others say it’s haunted by vampires, or ghosts, or all those swamps. But if you were around between 1817 and 1905, you might say the city was haunted by death. And that death, in large part, was caused by yellow fever.

Yellow fever was fatal. It was gruesome. And in epidemic years, during the months between July and October, it could wipe out 10 percent of the city’s population. Eventually, it earned New Orleans the nickname “Necropolis” — city of the dead.

Yellow fever didn’t just kill. It created an entire social structure based on who had survived the virus, who was likely to survive it and who was not long for this world. And that structure had everything to do with immigration and slavery…

The insidious way in which illness can shape society: “How Yellow Fever Turned New Orleans Into The ‘City Of The Dead‘.”

* Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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As we get our flu shots, we might send healing birthday greetings to Florence Rena Sabin; she was born on this date in 1871.  A pioneer for women in science; she was the first woman to hold a full professorship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the first woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and the first woman to head a department at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.  Relevantly to today’s post, at Rockefeller she founded the cellular immunology section, where she researched the body’s white blood cells reaction to tuberculosis infection.

400px-Florence_Sabin_in_Rockefeller_lab source

 

Written by LW

November 9, 2018 at 1:01 am

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