The West African Ebola Outbreak As A Science Communication Challenge & Opportunity

I had the honor of speaking to a science communications seminar class at the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics, recently described by Dave Dewitt at our NPR affiliate as, “[C]reated 35 years ago for serious NC students with grand aspirations. It was the first residential school of its kind in the country, and it’s public. The course catalog rivals many major universities, with classes in robotics, biomedical engineering, and astrophysics.”

Dean of Science, Dr. Amy Shenk, invited me to talk about the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak ongoing in west Africa in terms of its challenges to public science communication. I’ve put together my collection of stories written in my role as a contributor to the Pharma & Healthcare section of Forbes.com. With my training as a pharmacologist, I naturally focus on what drugs are in development to treat the potentially fatal disease. But what I’ve learned is that drugs have little use if a health system lacks infrastructure to even monitor blood or administer intravenous electrolytes.

General thought questions

What do you know about Ebola hemorrhagic fever (now called Ebola Virus Disease, or EVD)?

What were you thinking when news of the outbreak first broke?

What did you think about bringing infected U.S. missionaries to Atlanta for care?

What message might this send to the people of west Africa?

Where did science communication go wrong? Where did it go right?

 

For the following articles:

Which of these do you think have particularly high value (or low value!) in communicating the complexity of the Ebola situation to the general public.

Does the simple listing of facts lead to understanding, addressing legitimate concerns?

What ethical issues does the use of experimental Ebola drugs raise that present a general science communication opportunity?

Kroll Ebola articles at Forbes

Do We Have Any Drugs To Treat Ebola? – 29 July 2014

Should We Be Concerned About American Ebola Patients Coming To Emory Hospital? – 1 August 2014

Ebola ‘Secret Serum’: Small Biopharma, The Army, And Big Tobacco – 5 August 2014

FDA Moves On Tekmira’s Ebola Drug While Sarepta’s Sits Unused – 7 August 2014

Beware Of Fake Ebola Supplements – 14 August 2014

American Missionaries Cured of Ebola Infections; Brantly: ‘Today Is A Miraculous Day’ – 21 August 2014

How Will We Know If The Ebola Drugs Worked? – 26 August 2014

NIAID/GSK Ebola Vaccines To Enter US, UK Human Safety Trials – 28 August 2014

BioCryst to Launch NHP Ebola Drug Safety, Efficacy Studies ‘Within Weeks’ – 29 August 2014

WHO Ebola Drug Panel: Use Survivor Serum To Treat Ebola Victims – 5 September 2014

Gates Foundation Commits $50 Million To Ebola Containment Efforts – 10 September 2014

Cuba Responds To Ebola Crisis As Black Market For Convalescent Serum Emerges – 12 September 2014

CDC Ramps Up Ebola Worker Training In Advance Of Obama Announcement – 16 September 2014

 

Explaining the drugs, informed consent

Ebola, Experimental Drugs and Informed Consent: Should Those At Risk Simply Take The Doctors Orders? – by Elaine Schattner – 31 August 2014

 

Vaccines and public health – Another science communications challenge 

Final, somewhat unrelated issue on science communications relative to tomorrow’s NOVA documentary on vaccines: The need for humility in public health communications, by Dr. Brian Zikland-Fisher of the University of Michigan. The polarization of vaccine attitudes, regardless of scientific facts, requires a middle ground where people can have legitimate concerns addressed.

  • We must acknowledge that each parent has the right and the authority to make his or her own choices, and that it is our failing (either in the quality of our vaccines or the persuasiveness of our message), not theirs, if we have failed to convince them that vaccination is the better choice.

  • We must acknowledge that we have the best chance of convincing a skeptical public when we put the weaknesses of our arguments and the risks of our interventions front and center and acknowledge the fears that they evoke.

It may seem counterintuitive, but embracing humility may be the best thing we can do. Humility will build trust in those who believe (sometimes accurately) that we are not telling the whole story. Humility might resonate with those parents who genuinely want to do right by their children but have not been convinced by “the facts.”

New blog home, same old story: dietary supplement adulteration with prescription drugs

If you are new to this blog, you should know that our laboratory and collaborators work on all aspects of physiologically-active compounds from natural sources – plants, fungi, bacteria, marine organisms, etc.

So, I am equally interested in prescription drugs and herbal or non-botanical dietary supplements. There are still some products on the shelves of health food stores that can actually provide health benefits if manufactured properly and taken in high enough doses.

However.

A common practice by unscrupulous supplement manufacturers is to add prescription drugs, or close structural relatives, to their herbal product to make it appear to the consumer that their product has beneficial effects.

In the last two weeks, the US FDA MedWatch program has announced two voluntary product recalls for dietary supplements adulterated with undeclared prescription drugs.

Another in a long litany of erectile dysfunction products boosted with compounds like those found in Viagra or Cialis comes to us from Vialipro by Good Health, Inc.:

Good Health, Inc. is conducting a voluntary recall after an FDA lab analyses found that the product tested from certain batches of Vialipro contain Sulfoaildenafil, an analogue of Sildenafil, an FDA-approved drug used as treatment for male Erectile Dysfunction (ED) making this product an unapproved drug. The undeclared ingredient may pose a threat to the consumer because the interaction of the analogue with some prescription drugs (such as nitroglycerin) may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Consumers with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take other prescription drugs.

The Vialipro product website is dead as of the time of this writing.

Such practice with this product class is extremely sophomoric: the FDA has had a testing program running for several years to detect these compounds in male sexual enhancement products. The FDA hasn’t updated their consumer information page since February, 2009, but this guide lists a large number of herbal products identified since 2004 as having prescription, phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors in them.

The practice is simply disingenuous and damages the reputation of botanical supplement manufacturers (and botanical researchers) who are trying to play by the rules and rigorously study these products.

Case two comes courtesy of J&H Besta Corporation and their Joyful Slim/Slim-30 “Natural Herb for Weight Loss”:

FDA lab analysis of this herb supplement was found to contain the undeclared drug, desmethyl sibutramine, an FDA-approved drug used as an appetite suppressant for weight loss. Sibutramine is known to substantially increase blood pressure and/or pulse rate in some patients and may present a significant risk for patients with a history of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias or stroke.

The Joyful Slim website is still live (because they sell other products) but contains this ironic image:

A reason to shop from them is that they let you know about product recalls? Well, I guess that's a nice consumer feature. (From joyfulslim.com on 27 July 2010)

The FDA press releases to which I’ve linked (1, 2) contain information for the consumer on returning the products for refund and reporting any adverse reactions associated with product use.

This is cheating, my friends, and these are only the cases that are detected by the FDA. These incidents make me wonder just how many cases of reported dietary supplement efficacy are due to physiologically-active adulterants – the abundance of clinical trial failures of well-characterized, chemically-qualified herbal supplements may speak to this very issue.

PepsiCo Food Frontiers blog did not have to be a #SbFAIL

Given the events of yesterday about corporate sponsorship in the objective landscape of science journalism, I found it ironic that my research collaboration meeting at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill brought me to their beautiful FedEx Global Education Center where I enjoyed an iced pomegranate tea.
However, I was feeling badly about midday from a combination of the high temperatures and, more significantly, high ozone levels that gave me some respiratory problems from my longstanding asthma issues that preceded LungMutiny2010.
The dream
So, I took a nap and had a dream. I dreamt that I received an e-mail from ScienceBlogs management asking for blogger feedback on an idea to launch a corporate-sponsored blog that was written by food scientists and physicians who worked for a large, multinational food company. I dreamt that on a discussion forum an exceedingly explosive debate ensued between bloggers and SB management about the wisdom of doing so. Virtually unanimous agreement emerged that putting paid corporate information on the center page where we all create objective content was unacceptable and misleading to readers who trust us.
Well-known journalists, writers, and/or book authors who blog at SB warned management about critical issues regarding conflicts of interest in media and that basic tenets of journalistic ethics extend even to privately-held, online organizations – if they intend to be perceived as credible by the rest of the world. To ignore such principles would make SB and Seed the laughing stock of academic and corporate journalism.
Bloggers who helped launch SB argued that the hard-earned reputation they built at the network should not be open for pay-to-play by anyone, most of all a corporation that was already writing the blog at their own site.
Others argued about how a blog written by corporate representatives might differ or not from previous sponsored blogs where unaffiliated bloggers provided content. Some were just outright opposed because the company has a history of working too closely with a military government guilty of ethnic cleansing and other offenses. Others felt that every corporation has skeletons in their closet and that it is difficult to draw the line as to what money SB should or shouldn’t take. Some felt that we all use products from this company and that we are as complicit in their wrongdoings as our demand for petroleum is of BP’s debacle. SB management shared with bloggers the precarious nature of their financial situation and the need to take steps for continued viability. Some bloggers threatened to leave the network if the plans moved forward. Others were going to leave anyway because of a pre-existing condition of community erosion, late payments, and loss of transparency and communication.
The reality
But like the dream, the contentious and rancorous discussion didn’t happen before SB moved ahead and launched the corporate blog. Instead, these discussions played out in public and were followed by a confidential-to-bloggers, tin-eared missive from the boy-leader so heavily laden with corporate-speak that its leak was obviously anticipated. All of the discussion points and questions raised by Adam Bly in that letter could have been addressed in private conversations with the ScienceBlogs community in advance of the PepsiCo blog launch – a catastrophic folly that many of us first learned from Twitter, then from an official communication from ScienceBlogs two-and-a-half hours after the blog launched.
The condescending tone of his letter was an insult to the bloggers and demonstrated his lack of understanding of what he had done wrong.
Instead, it was left to departing and on-hiatus bloggers, as well as the rest of the world, to point out to ScienceBlogs management how fatally misguided this venture was.

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PepsiCo blog, Food Frontiers, is an affront to those who built the reputation of ScienceBlogs

Yesterday, the ScienceBlogs arm of Seed Media Group announced that they would be hosting a blog written by members of PepsiCo’s research and development leadership team. From the Food Frontiers blog:

PepsiCo’s R&D Leadership Team discusses the science behind the food industry’s role in addressing global public health challenges. This is an extension of PepsiCo’s own Food Frontiers blog. All editorial content on the blog is overseen by ScienceBlogs editors.

The opening post was written by ScienceBlogs “editor” Evan Lerner:

As part of this partnership, we’ll hear from a wide range of experts on how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages. The focus will be on innovations in science, nutrition and health policy. In addition to learning more about the transformation of PepsiCo’s product portfolio, we’ll be seeing some of the innovative ways it is planning to reduce its use of energy, water and packaging. . .
. . .We have some exciting things planned for this project, including a video series that will begin with a look at the role the food industry plays in health issues, and how industry research into chemistry, physiology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, medicine, and nutrition can improve health outcomes around the world.

For the moment, I will set aside my objections to the presence on this network of a company that contributes to the explosion of obesity and diabetes among adults and children – a major strain on health care costs without even considering the increased risk of cancers. I’ll also withhold judgment for now on the content of the blog that may be offered by its writers, some of whom are physicians and scientists for PepsiCo. In fact, I’m particularly interested in what will be posted by Dr. George Mensah, a cardiovascular physician who had been at the CDC for nine years before joining PepsiCo. And I’ll hold back details of the little bit of vomit I felt at the back of my throat when seeing that Food Frontiers is posted within the “Medicine & Health” channel of ScienceBlogs.
I wish to focus my objections specifically on the breach of ethics and community represented by ScienceBlogs hosting this blog and accepting an undisclosed amount of sponsorship funds to do so.
When I joined ScienceBlogs four years ago last month, I was contractually promised complete editorial control over my content, including the right to ridicule anything ScienceBlogs does, and have never once been asked to adjust any of my writing. Never. Not once. Nor has a single blogger I know ever been asked to alter content. I specifically point this out because the Food Frontiers blog lists Evan Lerner as ScienceBlogs editor – he does not edit my content or anyone else’s. When ScienceBlogs was originally launched, the position occupied by Mr. Lerner was called “community manager.”
In return, ScienceBlogs puts advertising on the right sidebar for which they receive all payments. The advertising has now metastasized to above the masthead and several places throughout the frontpage such that, if you don’t use ad-blocking plug-ins for your browser, are making this site look like a GoDaddy page. In fact, “The Promise of PepsiCo” ad routinely rotates above the masthead.
But I understand the need for advertising to keep a business afloat. And in return, ScienceBlogs pays us a small amount at a rate proportional to our respective blog traffic. For me, saving my earnings for two full years will probably allow me to buy a new MacBook Pro. The advertising also pays for the technical support of the blog, though sorely declining, and integration of content into the network and the ScienceBlogs frontpage and channels.
This has been an acceptable relationship and even allowed me to obtain certification from the Health On The Net Foundation for objective health information content after I clearly identified advertising content and the financial relationship.
But ScienceBlogs has now stepped over the line with the PepsiCo blog.
ScienceBlogs has become a respected outlet for science communication in the new media format. Their press release (PDF) from April notes that traffic to the network has increased by more than 50% each year since launched in January, 2006. There are many reasons for its success but I submit that it is due to the scientific content of many of the blogs and the engagement of concerned bloggers with their respective communities.
However, accepting paid content within the main blogging space of the network is a breach of ethics and a clear conflict of interest for a media organization. Even the most vapid print magazine will cordon off as “advertisement” corporate-sponsored content made to look like magazine text. But as of this morning, Food Frontiers contains no identifying text to denote that it is comprised of paid, corporate content.
But what makes me most angry – and hurts personally – is that ScienceBlogs would not have been able to offer such an attractive package to PepsiCo if not for the reputation and pageviews built by the bloggers who have written here over the last four-and-a-half years.
In the past, management would run any new business model past the bloggers in advance – not that they were required to do so but out of courtesy and understanding of the mutual dependence implicit in the relationship. In this case, we were all blindsided late yesterday by an e-mail from ScienceBlogs that Food Frontiers had been launched. No advance discussion. No consideration of how the relationship might affect how our readers view us.
Business may be business, but ScienceBlogs is making a mockery of itself and undermining the objectivity and reputation that we have all worked so hard to establish and maintain. The exodus of several high-profile bloggers and world-class science writers over the last 18 months speaks to the fact that ScienceBlogs is no longer the only such game in the blogosphere. And I am certain that this unfolding episode will make for great journalism ethics discussions in J-school classrooms around the world next semester.
For what it’s worth, PepsiCo’s Daniel Pellegrom stated at Food Frontiers that they will moderate comments and accept any that are “not defamatory or profane.” And bloggers are already exercising their personal editorial control to attack this decision to host Food Frontiers, with at least one blog leaving and others threatening to do so. However, I will have to dig in to find out why GrrlScientist’s post entitled, “Sucking Corporate Dick” has now changed to “Pepsi Ethics.”
As usual, Orac at Respectful Insolence has a very complete discussion of advertising and hosted content at ScienceBlogs and a history of the blogging network and the community of bloggers.
As you might guess, this episode has stimulated for me a deep examination of conscience and consideration of why I blog – and why I remain at ScienceBlogs. Although I write with a pseudonym, my identity is clearly available here and elsewhere and I also have to consider my professional reputation together with the one I have built here with you as an objective source of information about drugs and dietary supplements. There are tradeoffs in any relationship and each blogger here will decide what is right for them.
But what is clear at this point is that completely independent of whatever content shows up at PepsiCo’s Food Frontiers blog, ScienceBlogs has hammered many nails into the coffin of its reputation. The decision to host that blog is the current pinnacle of disrespect shown to the bloggers who have built the ScienceBlogs readership over the last four-and-a-half years.

HBCU medical schools at Morehouse, Meharry, and Howard lead “social mission” metric – Annals of Internal Medicine

ResearchBlogging.orgReuters Health Executive Editor and proprietor of the excellent Embargo Watch blog, Ivan Oransky, was kind to alert me to this topical paper that appeared in Monday’s issue of Annals of Internal Medicine entitled, The Social Mission of Medical Education: Ranking the Schools.
To the credit of the Annals, the full text of the primary article is currently free. An accompanying editorial is behind the subscription wall.
The study was conducted led by Fitzhugh Mullan with Candice Chen, MD, Gretchen Kolsky, and Michael Spagnola from the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington University and Stephen Petterson, PhD from The Robert Graham Center was supported with funding from the Josiah Macy Foundation.
The authors developed a metric called “social mission” to rate US medical schools on their responsiveness to three major issues they cite as facing medical schools and policymakers: “an insufficient number of primary care physicians, geographic maldistribution of physicians, and the lack of a representative number of racial and ethnic minorities in medical schools and in practice.”

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Boy howdy! We’ve hooked Superbug’s Maryn McKenna!

On the heels of the recruitment of Deborah Blum to ScienceBlogs, I am happy to welcome journalist Maryn McKenna to our neck of the ether.
Her inaugural post can be read here.
superbug-cover.jpgMcKenna’s blog is called Superbug, reflecting the title of her most recent book, SUPERBUG: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, and her general interests in infectious diseases and food safety. Her 2004 book, BEATING BACK THE DEVIL: On The Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), named among Top Science Books of 2004 by Amazon.com and an “Outstanding Academic Title” by the American Library Association.
More details from her biography indicate that ScienceBlogs has secured a remarkable and experienced writer:

As a newspaper reporter, she worked for 11 years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she was the only journalist assigned to full-time coverage of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She reported from the Indian Ocean tsunami and from Hurricane Katrina, as well as from Southeast Asia, India, Africa and the Arctic, and embedded with CDC teams on Capitol Hill during the 2001 anthrax attacks and with a World Health Organization polio-eradication team in India.
Previously, she worked for the Boston Herald, where stories she co-wrote on illnesses among veterans of the first Persian Gulf War led to the first Congressional hearings on Gulf War Syndrome, and at the Cincinnati Enquirer, where her stories on the association between local cancer clusters and contamination escaping a federal nuclear weapons plant contributed to a successful nuclear-harm lawsuit by residents.
Maryn has been an Ochberg Fellow of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University; a Media Fellow with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; and a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. She has also served short fellowships at Harvard Medical School and the Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families at the University of Maryland. In 2006, she was an inaugural Health Journalism Fellow of the East-West Center in Honolulu and is now an Associate of the Center and teaches other journalists in its programs in Asia.
She is a cum laude graduate of Georgetown University, has a master’s degree with highest honors from Northwestern University, and is the recipient of numerous journalism awards.

McKenna is clearly not your ordinary writer.
McKenna Manhattan Bar Leadville.jpgBut, of course, I cannot let her welcome message go without some levity. My eye was captured by a photo on McKenna’s website with her in front of The Manhattan Bar in Leadville, Colorado, generally considered the highest, continually-occupied municipality in the continental United States. Their Facebook page is here.
Situated on US Highway 24 that becomes Harrison Street in Leadville, The Manhattan Bar is just across from the famed Delaware Hotel in this boomtown established by the Silver Rush of the late 1870s and 1880s that then collapsed when the silver standard backing US currency was repealed in 1893.
If you’ve driven from Denver to any scientific conferences in Aspen, hiked Colorado’s highest peak, Mt. Elbert, ran or biked any Leadville race, or taken your lab for whitewater rafting down the headwaters of the Arkansas River, chances are that you have driven past The Manhattan Bar.
Gotta respect a talented writer who acknowledges with reverence one of Colorado’s greatest treasures.
Welcome, Ms. McKenna!
And, as always, you can continue to follow Maryn on Twitter @marynmck
Photo credit: Shamelessly taken from McKenna’s website entirely without her permission.

GAO report on dietary supplement flaws released today in Senate hearing

Regular readers know that I hold equivocal views of the broad area of dietary supplements, particularly botanical supplements. On one hand, I have seen some great new compounds come from the systematic investigation of herbal and fungal concoctions to the point that 25% of prescription drugs are derived from natural products. On the other hand, some corners of the dietary supplement industry are little more than turn-of-the-last-century snake oil operations, with offenses so egregious that even their own trade associations try to distance themselves from those who adulterate, mislabel, and misrepresent their wares.
Just use the search box in the left sidebar and search this blog for “adulteration” to get a flavor for some examples (here, I’ve done it for you). Here’s one I haven’t gotten to that I just found thanks to the article mentioned below: the May 1 FDA consumer warning (but not recall) on Vita Breath supplement (for plumb fresh breath!) because it contains 10,000 times the lead content permitted in candy.
In today’s New York Times, Gardiner Harris gives us a preview of a report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) that will be presented to a Senate hearing in preparation for an overall plan on US food safety.

Nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements tested in a Congressional investigation contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants, and some supplement sellers made illegal claims that their products can cure cancer and other diseases, investigators found. . .
. . . Senator Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who will preside over Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, said that while improvements had been made in recent years in the oversight of supplements, “the F.D.A. needs the authority and tools to ensure that dietary supplements are as safe and effective as is widely perceived by the Americans who take them.”
Among the witnesses at the hearing will be Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, a company that has tested over 2,000 dietary supplements made by more than 300 manufacturers and has found that one in four have quality problems. According to Dr. Cooperman’s written testimony, the most common problems are supplements that lack adequate quantities of the indicated ingredients and those contaminated with heavy metals.

Go read and draw your own conclusions. I’ll look forward to seeing the whole report.
P.S. – I may be a little punchy today after a few days of grant reviews but I love that the Senator from Wisconsin is named “Herb.” In fact, Senator Kohl has been a big supporter of the Wisconsin ginseng industry. And Steve Mister, president of the trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition, is referred to as Mr. Mister. I can only think of this.

Agility of the community college system in preparing for BP oil spill landfall

FKCC.gifThe leadership team and all the staff here at Terra Sigillata world headquarters was taken aback yesterday when reports surfaced about the appearance of tar balls on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and Bahia Honda State Park, the closest long beach to Key West, Florida. A Coast Guard marine laboratory in Connecticut is currently examining the content of the tar balls to determine if they are indeed from, as feared, the BP Deepwater Horizon well. (Someone in the field has to help me out here but I believe there are an awful lot of LC/tandem mass spectrometers at Florida’s institutions of higher education and research institutes.).
We have spoken previously of our education and research work with colleagues at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden together with Duke University conservation biologist, Stuart Pimm. This area holds great personal and professional meaning for us here. The apparent spread of the oil spill not only means that the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the west coast of Florida will be affected but that oil may begin to find its way up the Atlantic coast. Not that any place is more or less important or environmentally sensitive, but the long range effects of the spill may be coming to realization.
We keep a subscription to Key West’s The Citizen newspaper and I’ve been really impressed by how active the community has been in mobilizing for combating the spill. The maps and current profiles I see remind me of those we see when a hurricane is approaching. As such, Florida Keys Community College has launched today one of two planned, three-day training sessions for responding to volunteer to help mitigate damage from the spill. The $575 tuition also certifies one to meet OSHA requirements for Hazardous Material Technician.

24-Hour OSHA HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard) Technician Level Training:
Wednesday May 19 – Friday May 24
8:00a.m.-5:00p.m. at FKCC’s Key West campus
Cost: $575/person
Monday May 24 – Wednesday May 26
8:00a.m.-5:00p.m. at FKCC’s Key West campus
Cost: $575/person
Description: The 24-hour course is designed for persons who respond to a hazardous materials incident for the purpose of stopping, containing, controlling and cleaning up the release. This level of training is also appropriate for persons performing limited tasks at an uncontrolled hazardous waste site and who are unlikely to be exposed above permissible exposure limits. This training meets all OSHA requirements for the Hazardous Material Technician (29 CFR 1910.120).
Please note: Those who have received the 4-hour Marine Oil Spill Cleanup course will be dismissed at 12:00p.m. on the last day of class.
For more information or to register, contact FKCC Director of Continuing Education Cathy Torres at 305-809-3250.

Not written in the workshop description is the likelihood that such training would place one at the top of the list should federally-funded employment become available for cleanup efforts as happened following the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska.
I applaud my colleagues across the Lower Keys and at Key West Community College for mobilizing so quickly and providing timely education to serve the community. We take our community colleges for granted sometimes, so I want to draw attention to one of the underappreciated functions of this facet of higher education.

Tragic H1N1 death of University of North Carolina freshman: get your vaccine now

lillian-400x300.jpgIf you think that the H1N1 pandemic is slowing down and have grown complacent with vaccination now that vaccines are more widely available, please learn something from last night’s tragic loss of local college student from Rhode Island, Lillian Chason:

A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student, who friends said was battling complications from the H1N1 virus, died Wednesday evening, according to UNC Hospitals and a Facebook post made by her father.
Freshman Lillian Chason had been in critical condition at UNC Hospitals for weeks. Friends told WRAL News on Tuesday that she started feeling bad before Thanksgiving and went into the hospital on Nov. 20.
“I’m sorry to have to tell everyone that Lillian died this afternoon at 5:20 PM,” her father, Eric Chason, wrote on Facebook Wednesday. “As you all know, she put up an incredible fight and if there was anyway she could have overcome this disease, she would have.”

I don’t know anything about this case other than what is appearing in the local and Rhode Island media and what appears on the Facebook page. However, it appears that Ms. Chason had no underlying pulmonary disease or other health issues.
This is the kind of death we have been worrying about with H1N1: one that strikes the very healthy, young adult population.
Ms. Chason had the best quality of care at one of the top US academic medical centers. I suspect that the UNC Health Care team is distraught and felt helpless in the face of the complication of H1N1 that they could not overcome even with the best medical tools.
Ironically, today’s paper has an article by Sarah Avery entitled, “H1N1 shots arrive as demand dies down.”
So, young and healthy US readers of ScienceBlogs, more H1N1 vaccine has become available around the country so that those at “the back of the line” can now receive theirs. Lauren Neergaard at AP reports that 100 millions doses are estimated to be available by the week’s end.
The vaccine is, of course, not 100% effective but the loss of Lillian Chason should remind us that any shot you have at reducing risk is worth it.
As a father of a young girl, my heart aches for the Chason family.
If you are so inclined, you may register your condolences with the family here.

How to report in vitro cancer studies: maitake mushroom extract doesn’t “fight cancer”

ResearchBlogging.orgEarlier this week, I saw one of the best treatments of a misinterpreted story that has me thinking about how all news outlets should report in vitro laboratory studies.
Only thing is that it didn’t come from a news outlet.
It came instead from a brainwashing site run by those medical socialist types – I am, of course, speaking of the UK National Health Service and their excellent patient education website, NHS Choices.
You may recall reading in the popular dead-tree or online press that investigators from New York Medical College in Valhalla published in British Journal of Urology International about maitake mushroom extract killing bladder cancer cells. The most widely cited reports came from the UK Daily Mail by Tamara Cohen entitled, “Mushroom ‘shrinks cancer tumours by 75 percent,'” and “Cancer Cure: Mushrooms Can Shrink Tumors,” by Jo Willey of the UK Daily Express.
Well, NHS Choices took a look at the study and detailed how the mushroom extract was only used on bladder cells in culture. Throughout their review and in the conclusion that follows, they specifically took to task the story in the Daily Express:

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