Friday Five: Hajj, pinkwashing, listeria, IVF, President Taft

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

Hajj ends with no significant health scares

The Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, called hajj, concludes today. Public health officials worried about the spread of MERS as well as the annual concerns of fires, stampedes, and the transmission of pathogens through the ritual of head shaving. Thankfully, there have been no injuries or deaths so far (though we’ll have to keep watch for MERS and the infectious diseases associated with the head shaving). The number of pilgrims was down significantly from 3.2 million last year to just under two million this year. Hopefully, this success can be emulated in future years—keeping people safe during religious rituals should be a priority for Saudi Arabia.

 

Just say no to pinkwashing

I don’t understand how someone thinks that purchasing pink M&Ms or water bottles or scarves does any more good than donating directly to a breast cancer research charity—and in fact, it doesn’t. Luckily, Breast Cancer Action runs a campaign every October called Think Before You Pink, encouraging consumers not to purchase these products. This year they’re targeting the known carcinogens that are in various “awareness” items. They’re pushing for legislation that would require chemicals in consumer products to be tested for safety before they come to market, something that is not required now. Take a look at what they’re proposing, and even if you don’t want to sign the petition, please consider sending a couple bucks to the American Cancer Society or another reputable charity rather than buying a pink iPhone case

 

Food recall: listeria edition

There is yet another food recall this week, this time with ready to eat chicken and ham products from Garden Fresh Foods tainted with listeria (the irony of company names involved in recalls always makes me giggle). Garden Fresh had a previous recall in September involving foods sold at Target, Weis, and other outlets. If you bought chicken or ham salad from Weis, and the package has "EST. 17256" or "Est. P-17256" printed on it, throw it away! Listeria usually causes trouble in the usual vulnerable groups: elderly adults, pregnant women, small children, and people with compromised immune systems. For the list of recalled foods, see the USDA.

 

IVF has been a huge success

Preliminary research shows that there have been at least five million births as a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is the process of stimulating ovulation, retrieving eggs, fertilizing those eggs in a controlled environment, and transferring the resulting embryo into the woman’s uterus. People choose to use IVF for many reasons: maternal age, fallopian tube issues, male infertility, or to allow LGBT couples to have a child biologically related to a partner. Infertility is losing its stigma in no small part due to the surge in IVF babies. Having options about when and how to start a family is crucial, and being able to talk about those options and decisions helps normalize the ideas for others.

 

Former presidents…they’re just like us!

William Howard Taft, our portliest president, seems to have used the late 1800s version of Weight Watchers to slim down. New research shows that he had a years-long correspondence with a weight loss doctor who suggested a low-fat, low-calorie diet combined with exercise, portion control, and daily weigh-ins. Taft lost weight, but complained of constant hunger—no surprise because he was limited to small portions of meat, vegetables without butter, plain salad, and cooked fruit. He was not able to stick to the diet long term, so he eventually regained the weight he lost, much like modern dieters. Permanent weight loss is incredibly difficult, and Taft shows us that even the powerful can struggle with their weight.

 

Oh, and I’d love if you’d check out the first episode of my new podcast, Action Phase!

Friday Five: Chicago, ACA, firefighters, prescription drugs, vaccine recall

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

Fourth of July shootings in Chicago

This Fourth of July weekend is proving to be deadly for Chicago. Yesterday, eight people were killed and more than 30 were hurt in shootings across the city. The youngest victim is just five years old, and was shot while attending a party in a park with his family. These shootings are a disgrace, as is the lack of national coverage of the violence permeating Chicago. Victims’ stories should be plastered across every news station and website, and the nation should be reviving the post-Sandy Hook gun conversation in light of this inexcusable violence.

 

Another ACA delay

The Obama administration added to the confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act by pushing the employer mandate deadline back one year to January 1, 2015. Another instance of caving to private sector demands means increased misunderstanding for the public. The law was incredibly complicated as written, and the administrative tweaks, House repeals, and flat-out lies disseminated by the media ensure that nobody has any idea what’s going on. The ACA is the single most important change to health care the US has seen since 1965, and its frustrating to watch it falter. Hopefully, the exchanges will still open as scheduled on October 1.

 

Firefighters killed in Arizona fires

Nineteen elite firefighters were killed on Sunday battling a blaze that is still only 45% contained. Their deaths have reminded us that the people suffering from these fires are not only those who lose their homes, but the people who are willing run into the flames to try to protect those homes. We’re learning about the hotshot teams specially trained to fight wildfires, an aspect of firefighting that was unknown to many people. I’ve been trying to imagine what it’s like to do what these teams do: go out to the fire, live near it for days, battling it while awake and smelling it while you sleep. I am in awe and very grateful.

 

More ‘scripts, more problems

This was a big week for news about prescription drugs. A brief rundown:

  • 70% of Americans take at least one prescription a day, mostly antibiotics, antidepressants, or painkillers
  • The number of fatal overdoses in women quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, and approximately 42 women die daily from overdoses
  • The FDA busted 1600 illegal online pharmacies

 

Hepatitis B Vaccine recall

Merck issued a recall this week for one lot of the Hepatitis B vaccine Recombivax. The issue is not with the vaccine itself, but with the glass vials that may easily crack. Merck is concerned about the sterility of the vaccine, and the FDA assures consumers there’s no need to be revaccinated if a doctor administered one of the recalled lot. The anti-vaccine websites I visited seem to have not picked this up yet, so maybe this vaccine news won’t be misconstrued. We can only hope.

In honor of yesterday's Fourth of July holiday, here's a little Katy Perry to get you dancing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGJuMBdaqIw

#PubHT Prep Post: Presidential Problems

I recently became an Ambassador for #PubHT , a site/Twitter chat designed to connect public health professionals through lively conversation on current topics in the field. The chats are on the first and third Monday of each month. In honor of Presidents' Day, tomorrow's chat will be about presidents, their personal health issues, and their influence on health policy. Hop on over to check out my first post as a #PubHT Ambassador!