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Measles outbreaks now a global problem thanks to anti-vaxxers

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Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Measles outbreaks are becoming more of a global problem, with more than 300,000 suspected and confirmed cases worldwide​. 
  • Brexit takes a toll on Britain’s scientific community, leading to fears over a “brain drain.” 
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Connecting the dots

The measles are making a big comeback. 

The latest figures from the World Health Organization show that 2018 will be another (modern) record-setting year for the highly contagious yet easily preventable disease, with 301,702 suspected and confirmed cases worldwide through the end of October. But those represent just a fraction of the actual number of infections, as most cases in the developing world go unreported.

Late last month, the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, published a report that found a 31 per cent rise in worldwide measles cases in 2017, estimating 110,000 deaths due to the disease, mostly children under the age of five. Reported cases have increased in five of the six world health regions, with only Western Pacific nations like Australia and Japan showing progress.

A health official administers a measles vaccination at Maple Ridge Secondary School on Sept. 7, 2018. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Targeted vaccination campaigns have reduced the number of measles deaths by 80 per cent over the past two decades, from an estimated 545,000 fatal cases in 2000. But vaccine coverage, which needs to be at 95 per cent to offer “herd immunity” and effectively end outbreaks of the disease, has stalled at around 85 per cent and has been falling in several countries. 

The reason is the anti-vaxxer movement, which has lately been gaining strength and support from populist governments who share their science skepticism.

A report in today’s Guardian newspaper captures the frustration of the European Union’s health commissioner, Dr. Vytenis Andriukaitis, at the close to 64,000 cases and 72 deaths across the continent so far this year.
“Not just me – all of scientific society is concerned – epidemiologists, paediatricians, infectious disease experts and a lot of health ministers,” he told the paper. “It is unimaginable that we have deaths because of measles – children dying because of measles. We promised that by 2020 Europe would be measles free.”

Immunization rates have fallen in places like Romania, Italy, Poland and France, as the internet continues to spread discredited concerns about the safety of the MMR vaccine and governments have made it easier for parents to opt out. And the number of cases across Europe have grown exponentially, from 5273 in 2016, to 23,927 last year and now almost triple that figure.

This year, Europe has experienced a particularly large measles outbreaks in Ukraine — 45,000 sickened — and sizeable ones in Serbia, Greece, and Albania among others, with cases now documented in 42 of its 53 nations. In fact, Europe now has more suspected and confirmed cases than Africa, and ranks second behind Southeast Asia, where India is currently experiencing the world’s worst outbreak.

But the problem is global.

Venezuela has seen a sharp spike in the measles in the midst of its economic and political meltdown, with more than 6,000 confirmed cases since the summer of 2017, as has neighbouring Brazil, which reports 9,800 cases. Madagascar has had more than 10,000 cases over just the past three months

And this week, Israel saw its second measles death in a month, as the nation grapples with an outbreak that has affected 2,690 people, resulting in 948 hospitalizations.

It has been a relatively quiet year for measles in North America, with 292 cases reported across the United States, and 29 in Canada — the latest leading to a public health alert this week in the Greater Toronto region

The highly contagious disease, which can be spread by coughs or sneezes, usually manifests itself with cold-like symptoms and a rash. But in certain cases it can cause serious and potentially deadly complications, including encephalitis, meningitis and pneumonia. 

Before the MMR vaccine became widely available in 1980, the measles used to kill 2.6 million people every year. And the the WHO estimates that the two dose treatment has prevented 21.1 million deaths since 2000.


Brexit fuels ‘brain drain’ fears

The U.K.’s departure from the EU has many scientists reconsidering their future, writes CBC London correspondent Thomas Daigle.

A born-and-bred Briton, Emma Bell hadn’t planned to leave the U.K.

That’s until Britain voted to leave the EU.

“I don’t understand why we’re intentionally self-destructing,” she said.

Uncertainties over Brexit led British cancer researcher Emma Bell to accept a new position in Toronto in the new year. She believes a brain drain is “exactly what’s happening” in the U.K. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

As a PhD-trained bioinformatician at Imperial College London, Bell uses computer programming to analyze DNA and identify cancer risks.

But she won’t be here for long.

She’s moving to Toronto by early February to work at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

“I decided not to look for a position here in the U.K. because I have concerns about what life will be like and what my work will be like after March 29,” the day Brexit takes effect.

She’s not the only one.

Despite the British government’s assurances that it is managing the risks of a no-deal Brexit, scientists fear research material could be delayed at the border, international scientific cooperation could be held up and EU funding could vanish.

Nearly all London-based scientists (97 per cent) who responded to a recent survey said they believe a “hard” Brexit would be bad for their field. More than 1,000 staff took part in the study at the Francis Crick Institute, the country’s biggest biomedical research lab.

Jasmin Zohren says she took the 2016 vote “quite personally at the time.” A sex chromosome biology researcher at the Crick, Zohren is considering a move back to her native Germany once her contract runs out.

She predicts Brexit with no deal would lead to “chaos.”

“No one knows what’s going to happen.”

In just over three months, Britain is set to leave the European Union. But many uncertainties remain for the scientific community. The CBC’s Thomas Daigle met with a scientist who is moving to Canada because of Brexit. 2:17

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A few words on … 

Connecting at Christmastime.


Quote of the moment

“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”

-U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis airs a fundamental difference with President Donald Trump via his publicly-released resignation letter.

FILE -In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during the 2018 POW/MIA National Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington. President Donald Trump says Mattis will be retiring at the end of February 2019 and that a new secretary will be named shortly. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)


What The National is reading

  • Canadian held in China questioned daily without lawyer: sources (CBC)
  • Yellow jacket protests head to Portugal (Politico EU)
  • Charlie Hebdo attack suspect arrested in Djibouti (CBC)
  • Mars Express probe beams back images of ice-filled crater (Guardian)
  • Fact-checking fibbing politicians works, study finds (Agence France Presse)
  • Conceal-carry clerk shoots, kills, angry, armed customer (NBC Tusla)
  • Escaping prisoner accidentally hitches lift from policeman (BBC)
  • Tower of London beefeaters to strike over pension changes (Reuters)

Today in history

Dec. 21, 1994: The great fruitcake debate: light or dark?

Should Christmas cake be dark or light? Soak it in enough booze and no one cares. 

The great debate: should Christmas cake be dark or light? 7:13

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to thenationaltoday@cbc.ca. ​


A note to readers

The National Today will be taking the next couple of weeks off to roast chestnuts on an open fire and test the limits of eggnog tolerance. See you on Jan. 7, 2019. Joyeuses Fêtes! 



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Herbal remedies: Saw palmetto for hair loss prevention

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(Natural News) Saw palmetto is a small, shrub-like palm endemic to the United States. Known for its medicinal properties, saw palmetto has been used for centuries to treat reproductive issues and hormonal imbalance.

Today, saw palmetto is used as an ingredient in many hair growth products and supplements, as it is thought to prevent hair loss. This could be due to saw palmetto’s influence on the hormones that dictate hair growth.

Saw palmetto for hair loss

There is evidence to suggest that saw palmetto can help treat hair loss and prevent its occurrence. According to a 2012 study, saw palmetto could inhibit 5-alpha reductase (5-AR). 5-AR converts testosterone, a male sex hormone, into a more potent hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Research shows that high levels of DHT can shrink hair follicles and result in hair loss. DHT also makes it harder for hair follicles to grow new hair once the old hairs fall out. By inhibiting 5-AR, saw palmetto blocks the conversion of testosterone to DHT.

In another 2012 study, researchers evaluated the effects of saw palmetto supplementation in men with mild or moderate androgenetic alopecia, or male-pattern baldness. One group received 320 milligrams (mg) of saw palmetto every day for two years, while another group took one mg of finasteride, a conventional drug used to treat hair loss.

The results showed that 38 percent of participants who supplemented with saw palmetto experienced improvements in hair growth, compared to 68 percent of those who supplemented with finasteride.

While the experiment showed that finasteride was more effective, the researchers noted that saw palmetto may be less likely to work in people with more severe cases of hair loss. More research is needed to confirm this.

Saw palmetto is available in several forms, including oral supplements and hair care products like conditioners and shampoos.

Due to limited research on the use of saw palmetto for hair loss, there is no official recommended dosage for it. That said, a study published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery cited a recommended dosage of 160 mg twice daily for saw palmetto tablets. Researchers often use this dosage when studying with saw palmetto.

Take note that saw palmetto has been reported to sometimes cause mild side effects, such as headaches and stomachaches. If in doubt about using saw palmetto, consult a natural health practitioner.

Other natural remedies for hair loss

Hair growth depends on several factors, including a person’s genetic makeup. Still, some home remedies might help prevent hair loss and/or encourage hair growth. These remedies include:

  • Jojoba oil – Jojoba oil helps nourish hair follicles without leaving any residue behind. It also stimulates hair cells to grow faster.
  • Aloe vera – Aloe vera helps get rid of sebum buildup in the scalp. Sebum is a natural oil that helps keep the scalp moisturized. It can build up on the scalp and clog hair follicles due to poor hair hygiene.
  • Garlic – The pungent compounds in garlic help increase blood circulation in the scalp, which stimulates hair growth. These compounds also stimulate the synthesis of collagen, a protein that gives structure to hair.
  • Onion – Like garlic, onions boost blood flow in the scalp for better hair growth.
  • Licorice root – Licorice root helps relieve dry and irritated scalp. It also strengthens weak follicles.
  • Rosemary oil – Rosemary oil has antiseptic properties. It is ideal for treating scalp issues that slow hair growth, such as dandruff and bacterial infections.
  • Coconut milk – Coconut milk helps moisturize a dry scalp, which is a leading cause of hair loss.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar works as a clarifying agent, ridding the scalp of extra sebum and other residues that can clog hair follicles and inhibit hair growth.

Some hair loss is natural. But for mild to moderate cases of hair loss, it might help to use herbal remedies, such as saw palmetto, to strengthen hair or encourage hair growth.

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Scientist that condemned coronavirus lab leak theory admits he squashed it to protect Chinese scientists

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(Natural News) An American scientist who criticized theories that the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) might have accidentally escaped or leaked from a Chinese laboratory has admitted that he was denouncing the idea in order to protect Chinese scientists.

Dr. Peter Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nongovernmental organization that conducts scientific and policy research regarding emerging diseases, led an endeavor in February 2020 to quash any kind of suspicion that COVID-19 might have accidentally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research and academic institution supported by the Chinese state.

This culminated in a statement published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet that condemned the “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 doesn’t have a natural origin.”

The Lancet article was written during the very early stages of the global pandemic, during a time when there wasn’t any kind of rigorous research on the origins of the virus.

Daszak further reiterated his support for China in a statement released on Feb. 6, stating that he stands with other scientists to “strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that 2019-nCoV does not have a natural origin. Scientific evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this virus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging diseases.”

In June, Daszak also wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian titled: “Ignore the conspiracy theories: scientists know COVID-19 wasn’t created in a lab.”

But on Friday, Jan. 15, Daszak’s spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that his statement, which has been used to silence anybody with a dissenting opinion regarding the origins of the coronavirus, was published to protect Chinese scientists from criticism.

The Lancet letter was written during a time in which Chinese scientists were receiving death threats and the letter was intended as a showing of support for them as they were caught between important work trying to stop an outbreak and the crush of online harassment.”

WHO team heads to Wuhan to probe virus origin

The situation surrounding Daszak’s initial statements and his sudden retraction are being compounded by the fact that the doctor is part of an international 15-member team of experts sent by the World Health Organization (WHO)to Wuhan to figure out the origins of the coronavirus.

According to the WHO, the team’s official mission is to determine how, where and when the virus crossed from animals to humans.

Daszak has been tweeting about the mandatory quarantine period he and his team are going through. During day four of quarantine, he said that the day, like the previous days, is “packed” with virtual meetings.

Day 6 of quarantine lockdown in Wuhan & it’s that special time for our friendly health care workers to swab for our PCR tests – they go deep, but they’re very cheerful about it. Xie xie! pic.twitter.com/QvKzgC0Lng

— Peter Daszak (@PeterDaszak) January 20, 2021

Peter Ben Embarek, team leader and WHO food safety and animal diseases expert, said that the team will be granted permission “to move around and meet our Chinese counterparts in person and go to the different sites that we want to visit,” once they’re done with the mandatory quarantine period.

It is unclear whether the WHO team will be looking into the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the theory that the coronavirus was engineered. Embarek has stated his desire to visit the “famous Wuhan market” to try and determine “everything that went in and out” of there in the weeks before the first confirmed cases.

Embarek is referring to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where many wild animals were often sold. This place is being investigated as a likely setting for the supposed “animal-to-human jump” of the coronavirus, or a place where that jump was accelerated.

“We know the virus originated in bats at some point, and then we know that human cases appeared in Wuhan in December 2019,” said Embarek. “But what happened in between, how many other animal species were involved in between, and where, remain to be found in more detail.”

“We don’t really know what happened in that period of time, and that’s what we are looking out for.”

Questions will remain regarding the role of the institute in the initial outbreak; questions that will continue to linger if WHO team does not conduct its investigation.

Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even said that the government has reason to believe that several researchers working for the institute “became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.”

Pompeo said that this calls into question the claims made by Shi Zhengli, the institute’s senior researcher on bat-related viruses, that there had been “zero [COVID-19 or SARS-related] infection” among the institute’s student body and staff.

Pompeo noted that the possibility of an “accidental infection” in a lab is more likely than people might think, especially considering that such an incident has already occurred in China. In 2004, a SARS outbreak in Beijing that infected nine people and killed one originated in a research facility.

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California healthcare workers suffer severe allergic reactions following coronavirus vaccination

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(Natural News) Six healthcare workers suffered allergic reactions after getting a shot of Moderna coronavirus vaccine in San Diego, California. Their symptoms were considered severe and required medical attention.

The doses administered to the six healthcare workers were part of the Moderna Lot 041L20A distributed to 287 providers across the state earlier this month. That batch of shipment, which arrived in California between Jan. 5 and Jan. 12, is composed of 330,000 shots.

Moderna said in a statement that it is cooperating with California’s health department to investigate the allergic reactions.

“Moderna acknowledges receiving a report from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) that a number of individuals at one vaccination center were treated for possible allergic reactions after vaccination from one lot of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine,” the statement read. “The company is fully cooperating with CDPH in investigating these reported adverse events.”

Dr. Erica Pan, California’s state epidemiologist, said Sunday, Jan. 17, that providers should err on the side of caution and stop using the doses until federal, state and company officials finish an investigation.

“Out of an extreme abundance of caution and also recognizing the extremely limited supply of vaccine, we are recommending that providers use other available vaccine inventory and pause the administration of vaccines from Moderna Lot 041L20A until the investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Moderna and the state is complete,” she said.

Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz have already paused distribution while two Covid-19 vaccine clinics have been canceled in Stanislaus County following the allergic reaction reports.

The delay was a huge blow to California’s vaccine distribution efforts. California currently has the second highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the United States, with Los Angeles being a particular hotspot.

All cases of apparent allergic reactions occurred at San Diego County’s drive-through mass vaccination site at Petco Park. No other providers have reported allergic reactions to vaccines administered from the same batch of doses.

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