Posts Tagged ‘disease’

Vampires in Peru -they don’t sparkle

August 18, 2010

When I read in the Korea Herald that four Peruvian children had died from vampire bat attacks, I figured it was another example of bad reporting.  However, it appears the report is correct although the bats are not the ultimate cause of death:

Rabid vampire bats have attacked more than 500 indigenous people in Peru’s Amazon, according to foreign news reports.

At least four children are believed to have died in an outbreak of the disease, the Peruvian Health Ministry said Sunday.

Rabies.  Those poor bastards.

From CBS News:

The authorities are trying to battle an outbreak of rabies spread by the bat bites, and have given vaccines to more than 500 people attacked by the bloodsucking mammals.

I gotta say, I learned a lot in preparing this short post. Mostly, I learned, once again, not to jump to conclusions.  Much to my surprise, I might not, in fact, be smarter than everyone writing this story.

As my second example, I thought vaccines only work if given before infection.  In this case, if given before being bitten.  Apparently not (From the CDC):

Rabies vaccine is given to people at high risk of rabies to protect them if they are exposed. It can also prevent the disease if it is given to a person after they have been exposed.

I was also surprised that a vaccine actually existed for rabies.  I had thought treatment was entirely post-infection.

Air Conditioning and blackouts

July 7, 2010

The Joongnang Ilbo reports that blackouts are possible this summer due to air conditioner use or overuse.

If reserves fall below the 4 million kilowatt level, the government has the right to demand power cuts and control electricity usage.

Of course, the threat of power cuts has been raised in previous summers, and in some winters, but they’ve always been avoided.

One method was through conservation measures, and the ministry is planning to restrict the use of air-conditioning starting next month during the peak hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. for buildings that consume more than 2,000 ton-oil-equivalents (or TOEs) of energy.

The government will advise buildings to turn off the air-conditioners for 10 minutes every hour.

Regular readers (well, of Gangwon Notes, I guess I haven’t discussed it on this blog, yet.  Okay, look here, if you are interested) will know my solution:  close the freaking door to the rooms and buildings you are heating or cooling!  I admit this is only a partial solution, but it is an easy first step and one so unfathomably overlooked.  Do Korean moms not tell their kids they don’t want to heat (or cool) all of Muskoka (or, you know, wherever)?

Other solutions, also from the Jungang, include cooling to only 25 or 26 degrees, rather than the so-very-wonderful 20 degrees.

I do love cool air in the summer and recently started introducing the idea of air conditioning to the wife, hoping she would subliminally absorb it and even suggest it to me.  Then, I would be able to appear surprised and reluctantly agree.  I am getting by without AC but I shudder at what our water and water heating bill will look like.  Let’s see, a shower before bed, one in the morning, and one after some exercise.  Indeed, sometimes I exercise on my bike, finish at the pool -and have a shower- then ride home and feel sweaty enough to have another shower!

Anyway, let’s see what other problems AC is connected to.

From the American Lion:

Having spent the last few years in Central Maryland, the heat there is stifling and the air conditioning pervasive. The humidity was always a nightmare for me because I tend to sweat profusely whenever the temperature hits 80 degrees or more. We spent thousands of dollars each year keeping the house cool.

Compare that with Germany. The home where we live now has no air conditioning. No one has it. No one needs it. And we regularly hit 80 degrees in the summer. The weather and climate here are much cooler, granted, but even when there is warm weather, one opens up the house and uses a few fans to cool the house. We have skylights and large windows that can be tilted open or left open to let cool air in and hot air out through the roof.

This may not be scientific, but when we last lived in Maryland, our sinus issues, family-wide, were legendary. We were accused of being manufacturers of methamphetamine–that’s how much Sudafed we were using.

After a few months abroad, all of our issues are cleared up. Everyone feels better. Everyone sleeps better and there are no issues. We are inundated with fresh air and cool breezes and we spend a great deal more time outdoors. And don’t forget the walking. The walking keeps us fit and trim.

I don’t get the connection between AC and walking.  I think that is a Moving-to-Germany thing and not directly connected to the main point.  On the other hand, the connection to breathing problems also appears in this Salon article reviewing “Losing our Cool”, a book by Stan Cox:

In the last half century, air conditioning has joined fireworks, swimming pools and charred hamburgers as a ubiquitous ingredient of an American summer. It’s no exaggeration to say it has changed the way this country functions, shaping everything from where we’re willing to live (Las Vegas, anyone?) to the amount of sex we have (more: It’s never too hot to get it on when the A.C. is blasting). Nine out of 10 new homes in this country are built with central air conditioning, and Americans now use as much electricity to power our A.C. as the entire continent of Africa uses for, well, everything. It has so thoroughly scrambled our way of life that when the National Academy of Engineering chose its 20 greatest engineering accomplishments of the last century, A.C. not only made the list, it clocked in ahead of spacecraft, highways and even the Internet.

Yes, AC did make the list, but only as part of refrigeration technology.  Cooling ourselves is merely a luxury, cooling and freezing food is a little more then that.

…Air conditioning is one of those technologies that are very good at generating more demand for themselves. The most obvious way that it’s doing that now is in adding to greenhouse emissions, which will mean even hotter summers in the future and even greater demand for air conditioning….

…Plus, one thing that all commuters are familiar with is that it’s necessary now on city streets and freeways to run the air conditioning in even slightly warm weather to be able to keep the windows rolled up against the exhaust from other cars….

I think that would be true, with or without air conditioning.  Twenty years ago, many friends set their fans to re-circulate to avoid the products of incomplete combustion from still-cold engines.  I have to admit, I love the air conditioning in my car and that is at least partially because I can more easily hear the podcasts and music I listen to while driving.  Also, Busan can be a smelly place.

…If you look at how we use our air conditioning, it’s shocking. Take a 3,000-square-foot house on a summer day — only about 3 percent of the cooling power from the central air conditioning is going for people cooling. That is to say, 3 percent is being used to help remove heat from people’s bodies. The other 97 percent is going to cool the structure of the house, all the tens of thousands of cubic feet of air that aren’t even coming in contact with these people. …

On how to keep cool without air conditioning: …But they told me it’s actually pretty much just the old-fashioned advice that people used to follow. They will close windows to keep the cool air in and only open them when they need to. In the evening they have a house fan to draw the cooler air back in, but a lot of the time they don’t even use that. The day I visited them it was the second-hottest day of 2009. They go through a lot of ice water….

(Question from Salon) There have been some positive health consequences from air conditioning — making it safer for people during heat waves, for instance. How do you reconcile this with wanting to ratchet down our A.C. use?

Yeah, it does have a Jekyll-and-Hyde character in that respect. But I think we need to look at it is as a fail-safe mechanism and recognize that a lot of the health problems that we need A.C. to solve, it may have contributed to in the first place. We need to look at the conditions under which people die in heat waves, the harsh life conditions that they’re enduring more generally. That’s the real root of the problem.

Also, a lot of people run air conditioning because they’re concerned about their allergies or asthma, but we need to consider the hypotheses that say that the current epidemic of those conditions is partly caused by lack of outdoor exposure to soil and friendly organisms. Maybe if children were out in the yard making mud pies instead of in a cool, sterile environment all day long, they might have a lot more defense against those problems.

My mother felt the same way and she was also concerned that, in cooling the air, AC also dried it, irritating nose and throat linings and such.  I had always assumed she simply wanted to save money and was telling us stories.  Sorry, mom.

There is a lot more to the Salon article.  Oh, What the Book can order Losing Our Cool ( And is moving.  The new store looks to be on the main street in Itaewon; I guess they are doing well.  Congratulations to them).

Back to AC and Electricity consumption.  This is a big problem, especially since “[e]lectricity is a mystery…We cannot even say where electricity comes from.  Some scientists think that the sun may be the source of most electricity…”

comic from cartoonstock.

The innocence of vaccine concerns here.

May 23, 2010

I follow science and pseudo-science news and am concerned by the increase these days of pseudo-science.

I recently saw an article title, “Inoculation fever for young children rising” and feared that the anti-vaxxer crazies had gotten a foothold in Korea (second link is to an anti-anti-vaxxer website).

No, the Korean article is about where people are choosing to get their children inoculated.  It seems people are going to private clinics rather than public health centres.  Both places use the same vaccine and the only difference is the price -free at the public location.

Indeed, there are no concerns about the safety of the vaccines themselves (the first link):

A mother of a 21-month-old daughter said, “Over the last six months, I spent more than 300,000 won (252 dollars) on vaccinations,” adding, “I went only to private hospitals since I didn’t have much knowledge of vaccinations.”One expert says, however, “Vaccinations cause no harm. If the chance of getting a disease is low, however, children don’t necessarily need to be inoculated against the disease.”

The North American vaccines =  autism people, by contrast, are all about the dangers of the vaccines (from the second link).

These are some of the ingredients antivaxxers claim are in vaccines:

  • anti-freeze(ethylene glycol): NO. There is no anti-freeze in vaccines. There is a compound in vaccines, however, with an awfully long name that starts with polyethylene glycol p blahblahblah. This is what confused them. But as the error has been pointed out to them, time and time again, they persist in wilfully misleading the public with the scary ANTI-FREEZE!
  • aborted fetal tissue: No. Vaccines do not contain aborted fetal tissue. A long, long time ago (the 1960’s) some cell lines were cultured from aborted fetuses. That much is true. What is not true, and once again has been pointed out to the antivax liars, TIME AND TIME AGAIN, is that vaccines do not (in fact, cannot) contain human tissue in any way, shape or form! Ask any blood donor recipient or transplant patient about that.
  • Thimerosol(mercury): this toxic substance, harmful in any amount, causes autism and a host of other disorders (according to antivaxxers). The truth is, however, a lot more encouraging. Mercury is not in all vaccines, and if present, is in minute traces of the less toxic variety. You get more mercury from a single can of tuna than in all vaccines combined. Relax. And still eat tuna.

UPDATED TWO MINUTES LATER: Tall guy writes has a webcomic describing some of the history of the anti vaccine movement (one page below – total comic is 15 ‘pages’ -one scrollable webpage).

2 MMR Vaccination Scandal Story

Viagra- a tool for conservation of species

April 5, 2010

I am not referring to our species, although I guess I could be.

No, the species that viagra will protect are those previously used in oriental medicines.

Now, I suppose that a few oriental medicines have real and measurable benefits.  I suspect that as more medicines tested in double-blind studies become available, fewer and fewer oriental medicines will be sought.

From the Korea Times (in an ‘https:’ format as they often and inexplicably are):

The oriental medicine market has faced setbacks over the past few years and observers are pointing their fingers at the rapid spread of erectile dysfunction treatment drugs as one of the major causes.

According to the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) and related parties, Sunday, about 71,000 tons of materials used in traditional medicines were traded here last year, the smallest annual volume since 2004.

Experts pick up a couple of reasons why the fever for alternative medicines, which had been the go-to solutions for diseases for so long here before the advent of Western products, is falling.

One is demographical – accustomed to Western-style medication and surgery, young Koreans do not like the old-fashioned remedies involving herbal medicine and acupuncture.

…and they do like medicines that actually have more than a placebo effect.

…In other words, erectile dysfunction drugs are regarded as substitutes for traditional oriental medicines. Economically speaking, when inexpensive substitutes are widely available, the demand for the original products goes down and so do their prices and trade.

The solution is that the original products should cut prices to compete with the cheap substitutes or somehow differentiate themselves. The problem; neither of these are easy for the oriental medicine industries, analysts point out.

I suspect oriental medicine could easily compete with western medicine – all it needs to do is show it’s effectiveness in blind- and double-blind- tests.  Is this really so hard for the author, Kim Tae-gyu, to admit?

Anyway, I am happy with the news for two reasons.  First, as must be clear, it is good to see ‘woo’ and superstition be left behind.  Second, although I don’t know what ingredients go into oriental impotence medicines, I suspect that some  endangered animals will now be somewhat less endangered.  As oriental medicine loses it’s glamour, perhaps the harvesting of bear bile will become less common as well.

Bad news for beer drinkers

March 18, 2010

I don’t know if beer changes the smell of your sweat, although I do know it changes the smell of your breath.  One way or another, it attracts mosquitos:

[researchers had] 43 men in Burkina Faso to drink either a locally brewed beer or tap water. They found that the mosquitoes were more attracted to the beer drinkers than the water drinkers.

From Plos One, via Freakonomics.

Tests need to be made to see if Rum and Coke has the same effect.  Or Gin and Tonic (that would be ironic, and poetic!).  Or, Soju!