“This week…we threw the scientists under the bus”

Note: As always, this post is my own opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinion of my employer

As I was watching Meet the Press this Sunday, I caught a great quote from NBC’s Nancy Snyderman.  Starting at around 06:12 of this clip,  she sum’s up what I’ve been feeling this week:

nbc-meet-the-press-panel-examines-cancer-screening-confusion#s-p1-so-i0

“This task force did not look at the economics.  Their job was to look at the pure science. And I think in some ways we hear from the scientists, don’t like the message, and this week I believe we threw the scientists under the bus.  We in this country have three hot button scientific issues.  We have stem cells, vaccines, cancer screening.  We need to step back as a society and let the scientists present their data and then, as an informed populace, look at it, talk about it.  And what happened on Monday was that the headlines then ran with the weak…

“…instead of intelligent people saying, ‘OK, what does this mean and how do we mean it’ And the task force basically said to women in their 40s, individualize yourselves, talk to your doctor.  This is all about, and I think Nancy and I agree on this, better technology.”

The science says what the science says, and in this case, it wasn’t popular.  I don’t know that I agree with the new guidelines in terms of the public health message they put out, but I do believe that the time has come for greater discussion about the merits of mammography, and the need for improved technology in this area.  That discussion seems to be getting lost in the discussion, and I am glad that Dr. Snyderman brought it up.

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Blessed is the Peace Maker

President Barack Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize today.

How cool is that!

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H1N1 Vaccine trials have begun

Vaccine trials funded by NIH have now started at several U.S. universities., and representatives from the CDC have said that they expect to have the vaccine ready by October.  Here are some of the things we have learned so far about the vaccine.

  • Five key groups have been identified for vaccination.  These include:
    • Pregnant women
    • Caretakers of young children
    • Healthcare and Emergency personnel
    • People 6 months to 24 years of age
    • People 25-64 who have chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems
  • The government hopes that there will be enough vaccine for everyone, but if there is a shortage at first, then certain groups should get priority.
    • Pregnant women
    • Caretakers of young children
    • Healthcare and Emergency workers with direct patient contact
    • People 6 months to 4 years of age
    • People 5-18 who have chronic health conditions
    • People over age 65 are encouraged to get the seasonal flu vaccine, but are not on the list of people recommended for the swine flu vaccine.
  • The vaccine will be grown in eggs, like the seasonal flu vaccine, so people who are allergic to eggs need to consult a doctor about options.
  • It is likely that people will need to get the swine flu vaccine in three doses.  Some reports have said that the subsequent doses will come 21 days earlier.
  • Vaccine tests are currently being conducted at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Emory University, St. Louis University, Seattle Group Health Cooperative, the University of Iowa, Vanderbilt University, Children’s Mercy Hospital and Duke University Medical Center.
  • Some school districts, including the District of Columbia, have announced that they will make vaccines available to students in school, with parental permission.

The emergence of social media

This morning I gave a presentation to members of the Ovarian Cancer of National Alliance about utilization of traditional and social media to advance the mission of their organizations.  It doing my research for the presentation I came across the results of a survey of journalists by TopRank Online Marketing that had some surprising results.

Age Distribution of Facebook UsersFor one, 64 percent of journalists used Google or Yahoo! to search for news.  Not Lexis/Nexis, but Google. And, while standard Google/Yahoo! searches were the most common, 27 percent of journalists had conducted what they were calling social searches.  Of the social tools used, 64 percent used social networks, 55 percent used blogs, 50 percent used wikis and 35 percent used micro-blogging sites like twitter and facebook.  So you know what this means folks — Facebook isn’t just for teenage girls anymore!

In fact, the average age of a Facebook user is 26, according to another report by iStrategyLabs.  Of the 200 million active users, the 35-54 age group is the fastest growing.  Of course only about 30 percent of the users are considered “active,” but that’s still a huge number, and growing everyday.

twitteruserchartAnd what about the microblogging?  Well twitter’s audience is even older — 31 is the average according to Social Media Today.  The users are 53 percent female, and 35 percent live in urban areas.  Twitter use is also growing rapidly, with 12.9 million new users per month.

With only 140 characters to work with, you wouldn’t think you’d be able to accomplish much on twitter, but I’ve actually met quite a few science writers and public relations people on twitter.  It’s become a great tool for professional networking, which is really surprising for a site who’s sole purpose is to allow you to answer the question “What are you doing?”

The pigs have the flu

Yesterday, Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services, Charles Johnson, declared a state of emergency, due to a recent increase in cases of swine flu (influenza type A H1N1).  The actual language read:

As a consequence of confirmed cases of Swine Influenza A (swH1N1) in California, Texas, Kansas, and New York, on this date and after consultation with public health officials as necessary, I, Charles E. Johnson, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pursuant to the authority vested in me under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. § 247d, do hereby determine that a public health emergency exists nationwide involving Swine Influenza A that affects or has significant potential to affect national security.”

My first thought was, “Ha, I’m glad I don’t eat pork,” but of course, that was silly.  Swine flu isn’t transmitted by eating the cooked animal.  Temperatures of at least 160°F kills bacteria and viruses.  According to the CDC, swine flu is spread mostly through contact among pigs and from contaminated objects moving between infected and uninfected groups of pigs.  Flu outbreaks in pigs are fairly common, particularly  during winter.  What’s uncommon, and what we are concerned about now, is humans being infected by swine flu.  As of 1:00 pm today, there were 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. in five states (CA, KS,NY, OH, TX.), with additional cases reported in Mexico and Europe.

While the vaccine for the human version of the flu does not protect against swine flu, the symptoms are the same.  Therefore, people exhibiting a fever, cough, body aches, headaches, fatigue, nasal congestion, vomiting and diarrhea are being encouraged to contact their doctors, particularly if they have been in contact with sick pigs, or people who were in contact with sick pigs.

Prevention is mostly in the hands of farmers and veterinarians, through vaccinations and efforts to control outbreaks.  However, the public is being urged to follow general flu prevention guidelines, such as covering the nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, frequent hand washing and avoiding groups (work, school, etc) when exhibiting symptoms.  Americans are also being urged to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico, where it is believed the current epidemic originated.

Treatment of swine flu includes courses of antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu and Relenza.  Both require a prescription from a physician.  The CDC has released 11 million courses from the strategic national stockpile for  use during this epidemic.

More information is available from the CDC, on their website at www.cdc.gov/swineflu/ or by calling (800) CDC-INFO.

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