Friday Five: Building collapse, Oklahoma tornadoes redux, Hepatitis A, cavities, vacation

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Building collapses in Philadelphia

The storefront of the Salvation Army thrift store crushed by the falling building. I took this photo on Thursday after the collapse and before the storefront was taken down.

Mid-morning on Wednesday, a building being demolished at 22nd and Market Streets in Philadelphia collapsed onto a Salvation Army thrift store, killing 6 and injuring 13 people. One resident was worried about unsafe demolition practices and lodged a formal complaint with the city, but the inspection deemed the conditions safe. One lawsuit has already been filed, and the city has put in place new demolition standards. There is some question about whether or not the contractor, Griffin Campbell, violated federal safety standards and was otherwise negligent. This story will continue to unfold, educating all Philadelphians about the importance of hiring knowledgeable and safe construction companies.

 

Oklahoma slammed by more tornadoes

At least 10 tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma last Friday, one of which was nearly 2 miles wide and is reported to have had winds near 300 miles per hour. Most upsetting is that because of a combination of rush hour traffic and people leaving their homes to avoid the tornadoes, many people were in their cars at the time; at least 8 people killed during the storm were in their vehicles. Despite the standard instruction to stay indoors (and get underground if possible) during a tornado warning, perhaps residual fear from the Moore tornado caused panic. Interestingly, one of the major activities of relief workers has been administering tetanus vaccines. Because tetanus bacteria live in soil and enter the body through puncture wounds, cleaning up after a disaster is a likely way to become exposed.

 

Berry mix causes a Hepatitis A outbreak

A frozen organic berry-pomegranate mix is the latest food borne illness culprit, sickening 61 people in seven states as of June 5. Hepatitis A is spread by contaminated food, which in the US generally occurs due to improper hand hygiene. The virus is genetically linked to other Hepatitis A viruses found in the Middle East, and the berry mix included pomegranate sees from Turkey. A unintended consequence of a global food market may be sharing food borne illnesses internationally.  The CDC has detailed information about which lots are being recalled—if you have a bag of Townsend Farms frozen berries in your freezer, please make sure it’s safe to eat.

 

Chances are, you need a cavity filled

Approximately 66% of people worldwide have serious untreated dental problems. Globally, the major oral health problems are shifting from tooth loss to severe gum disease and unfilled cavities. This means that people are keeping their teeth longer, but the teeth they’re keeping aren’t too healthy. Considering anti-fluoride rhetoric abounds, I’m not surprised. As most of Europe refuses to fluoridate and 780 million people worldwide lack access to safe water, basic oral health principles are often ignored.

 

Going on vacation is good for you...if you turn off your phone!

This infographic from Expedia UK explains how technology changes your thought patterns and causes stress, while touts the restorative power of vacations free from smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Of course, Expedia wants you to travel for their own reasons, but this might be the push we all need to put down the phone, pick up the sunscreen, and enjoy the summer!

Holidays_Unplugged_Expedia_Infographic

Why Won't Portland Fluoridate?

Portland, Oregon votes tomorrow on whether or not to fluoridate its water supply. I’m fascinated by the ways people adopt non-mainstream beliefs, so I jumped right into the anti-fluoridation activism vortex and found a culture motivated by fear and a desire for purity. I started with the Fluoride Action Network (FAN). My first thought: these people have money. The site is nicely designed and full of videos so the information is accessible to all. FAN focuses on the idea of “mass medication,” arguing that adding fluoride to the public water supply constitutes forcing drugs on unwilling people. According to FAN, people with kidney disease are at particular risk for fluoride toxicity.   They say, “it is unethical to compromise the health of some members in a population to obtain a purported benefit for another—particularly in the absence of these vulnerable members’ knowing consent.” FAN interprets fluoridation as an attack on personal liberty, a medical harm, and an informed consent issue. They allude to a government conspiracy to medicate and dull the intelligence of the public through fluoride.

Then I found Clean Water Portland, a group dedicated to keeping fluoride out of the city’s water supply. The first reason Clean Water Portland gives for voting no tomorrow is that “Industrial byproducts don’t belong in our water.” The chemical in question is fluorosilicic acid (FSA), a waste product from fertilizer manufacturing. Associating water and fertilizer is a great way to increase skepticism. Just the phrase “industrial byproducts” seems sinister and contaminated.

Clean Water Portland also invokes parents’ anxiety about harming their children by citing the conclusions of a Harvard meta-analysis of Chinese studies on the relationship between fluoride and IQ. The studies found an approximately 7 point drop in IQ when children lived in communities with fluoridated water. The researchers in the Harvard study note that this is a preliminary analysis and that there may be other issues contributing to the IQ drop.

Clean Water Portland frames the link between fluoridated water and IQ by asserting that “in a large population such as Portland, a shift of 5 IQ points would cut the number of geniuses in half and double the number of mentally handicapped.” Whoa! A vote for fluoridation is a vote for robbing your child of genius status. How could you? This shows Clean Water Portland’s inclination toward using parents’ natural desire to protect their children as a means to maintain the “purity” of Portland’s water.

Finally, I arrived at the Facebook page of Fluoride Free Portland. It has 415 likes, and appears to be a somewhat active community of Portlanders sharing links and encouraging people to promote the anti-fluoridation message. “Clean” and “natural” are their most important buzzwords. The posts show the true fear and disgust some Portlanders have for fluoride. The page is littered with photos of FSA tanks labeled “corrosive” and “caution.” Political cartoons, quotations placed over images of pristine lakes, and photos of kids holding anti-fluoride signs adorn the page. Supporters call for their perspective to be included on the Portland Water Board website but get their information about the dangers of fluoride from unreliable sources.

Like other fringe health activist groups—I’m looking at you, anti-vaxxers—the anti-fluoride coalition exists in a world where there is a pure, clean version of life that is endangered by deceptive medicine and industry. While I believe we must have a healthy amount of skepticism, particularly regarding the motivations of corporations, the anti-fluoride groups seem to have abandoned reason. They subvert their own cause by their radical opposition. I think there are plenty of people who would be willing to have a conversation about informed consent and the potential health effects fluoride can have on vulnerable populations. The alarmism and guilt used by these groups makes the rest of us tune out their potentially valuable contributions to the conversation.

Whether Portland starts fluoridating its water is up to the voters. But we should keep an eye on the anti-fluoride movement. Anti-vaccine groups were not taken seriously at first, and now we have outbreaks of pertussis and measles. With the easy communication afforded by the Internet, anti-fluoride could become the next big health movement, and our teeth will suffer.