Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Finding it hard to get back into your work groove after the holidays?  Take heart!  At least you haven’t just been named one of AOL’s 11 Stupidest Employees Of 2011.

To help you avoid ending up on the 2012 list, SRxA’s Word on Health would like to share with you the worst of last years’ faux pas.  Yes, we know they’re not all health related, but we hope these 11 stories of employee stupidity will make you laugh enough to improve your mental health!

#1  On day, elementary school gym teacher Jennifer Gomes just didn’t want to go to work. Rather than call out sick she opted to leave a note warning of a bomb at the main entrance of the school where she worked.  Her plan certainly worked.  Not only did she get to skip work that day, she was suspended from her job and charged with a felony count of false reporting of explosives.

#2 Staying with the education theme, high school teacher Jeff Spires was suspended in October for soliciting money from his students. According to a school investigation, Spires told his class to staple or paperclip cash to the back of their quizzes if they wanted to sweeten their grades. After it was revealed that one junior paid $70 to boost his grade to a B from a C, Spires was forced to resign.

#3 At a Boeing Co. plant near Philadelphia, more than three dozen employees were arrested for illegally selling prescription drugs, including oxycodone and Xanax. Federal authorities were tipped off to the unlawful activity after an internal investigation.  Seems that making helicopters wasn’t enough to get them high!

#4 Doralinda Vargas, a Taco Bell manager in California may have been trying to “think outside the bun,” but she got herself into legal hot water after an employee accused her of running a Ponzi scheme. The plan required employees to surrender $100 each payday. However, when assistant manager Jeorgina Cervantes De Gomez grew tired of the scheme and refused to pay up she soon found herself out of work. Gomez then sued the manager, seeking back wages and damages.

#5 Wisconsin cemetery worker Steven Conard was accused of stealing a guitar from a casket, Conard, a musician at first denied stealing the prized Fender Telecaster after a co-worker spotted it “in plain view” in Conard’s house. When pressed by police, Conard relented and handed the stolen instrument over saying “This isn’t something I normally do, I just have a respect for fine musical instruments.”  Sounds to us like he needs a tune up on his morals!

#6 Jill Filipovic, a lawyer and feminist blogger flew from Newark, N.J. to Dublin.  Upon arrival recently, she discovered an inspection tag in her luggage left by a Transportation Security Administration agent. Frequent travelers amongst us know there’s nothing unusual about this.  However, on this one the agent had scrawled along its side: “GET YOUR FREAK ON GIRL.” Apparently she had discovered the author’s vibrator in the suitcase. Filipovic, filed a complaint with the TSA, who responded in a statement that it “takes all allegations of inappropriate conduct seriously and is investigating the claim” and promised “appropriate disciplinary action.”

#7  Many people likely give little thought about where postal delivery workers relieve themselves on their daily routes. But Portland resident Don Derfler became very aware last spring after he witnessed a postal worker defecating on a neighbor’s lawn. Derfler, who said that he noticed the postal worker acting strangely, took photos of the incident. The Postal Service conducted a probe and determined the offending employee could keep his job but would be assigned a different route. We can only hope it’s one with a porta-john along the way.

#8 Last, but by certainly no means, least, we have Englishman Stuart Keen. The 54-year-old carpenter apparently mistook his penis for a piece of wood and accidentally cut it off while working with a saw. Fortunately for Keen, surgeons were able to reattach the severed member. No word yet on whether Keen has since changed professions!

So there we have it…unless of course you know of someone stupider…

Smashing Pumpkins and Other Stories

CNN just came out with its New Year’s Honors List of the best health stories of 2011.

Topping their list: the deadly cantaloupe listeria outbreak, radiation threats following the deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the inspiring recovery of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who suffered life-threatening brain injuries following an assassination attempt.   Head-injuries, Health Reform and HIV  also made the list.

While SRxA’s Word on Health has covered many of these stories, our Top 10 list, looks a little different.  In 2011,  more than 70,000people viewed the blog. Hemophilia came in at number 1, with three times more views than any other post, pushing last years winner, Pac-Man, into third place. Also up there, Alzheimer’s Disease, asthma and hepatitis A.

 Blog Title Views*
High Hopes for long-term Hemophilia B Therapy 9,841
Differentiating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Lyme Disease 3,197
Pac-Man Physiology 3,152
Alzheimer’s Disease could be Reversed by Rheumatoid Arthritis Protein 2,553
Taking the Ouch out of Diabetes 1,033
Mysterious Hep A Immune Response 1,021
You Can Control Your Asthma 865
Eye injection that could save the sight of the over 30’s 851
Falling for Pumpkins 845
Prescription Abandonment 794

2011 SRxA’s Word on Health stats.

*Excludes views on the day posted as the lead story

Just making it into the top ten, our Halloween blog on pumpkins, viewed that day by a record 1,500 people.

What were your favorite posts of the year? What would you like to see more of in 2012? We look forward to hearing from you.

And don’t forget…SRxA can help you with your blog, social media strategy or any other communications need. Find out more by contacting us today.

Wouldn’t You Like to Know!

If you had a family history of developing Alzheimer’s disease, would you take a genetic test that would give you more information about your chances?

Increasingly it seems, people are saying ‘yes’. The controversial genetic test is based on Apolipoprotein E (APOE).  Having certain variants of the APOE gene has been found to significantly increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

However, possession of the APOE variant is neither necessary nor sufficient to cause Alzheimer’s disease. This limitation, along with a general lack of treatment options for Alzheimer’s, has raised concerns that the genetic information could burden rather than benefit patients. Consequently, there are a lot of consensus statements and articles against the use of APOE genotyping for predicting Alzheimer’s risk.

Nevertheless, a recent study has shown that patients want to learn about their APOE test results and are not overtly distressed by them.  The Risk Evaluation and Education for Alzheimer’s disease Study (REVEAL), showed that even if the test does not have clinical utility it has personal utility.  Study participants who discovered they have an elevated risk, not only accepted the news but were more likely to initiative preventative life-style measures and more likely to consider retirement planning and purchase long term care insurance.  Knowing their risk also helped patients to have informed discussions with their partners and families.

SRxA’s Word on Health would like to know:

Bad day for your bowels?

Having one of those days…weeks…months?  If so, you should consider getting help before you end up with toilet troubles.

Seriously?   According to the results of a study unveiled this week at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific Meeting, the psychological and emotional traumas experienced over a lifetime, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, natural disaster, house fire or car accident, physical or mental abuse, all may contribute to adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, found that adults with IBS reported more traumas over a lifetime than matched controls .

While stress has been linked to IBS, and childhood abuse has been reported to be present in up to 50 percent of patients with IBS, most studies of abuse have focused on sexual abuse with sparse detail and also have not looked at other forms of psychological trauma,” said Yuri Saito-Loftus, MD. “This is the first study that looks at multiple forms of trauma, the timing of those traumas, and traumas in a family setting.”

IBS is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder marked by abdominal discomfort, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea and may be caused by changes in the nerves and muscles that control sensation and motility of the bowel. Trauma may sensitize the brain and the gut, according to Dr. Saito-Loftus, who said that the results of this study indicate that patients with IBS experience or report traumas at a level higher than patients without IBS.

In the United States, it is estimated that 10-15% of the adult population suffers from IBS. The burden of illness for IBS is significant and can have such a severe impact on Health-Related Quality of Life that it has been linked to an increase in suicidal behavior.

Patients and their families frequently wonder, ‘why me?’, ‘why did this happen?,’” said Dr. Saito Loftus. “This will help them understand why IBS happened to them.”

Our advice?  Do not “underplay” the role of stress. Even if you think you can cope with life’s little traumatic experiences on your own, your bowels may not agree.

Fighting Flu

Last night I participated in my annual healthcare lottery. Fortunately for my finances, this didn’t involve scratch cards, ticket stubs or wheel spinning of any kind, nor will it bring me great riches, a new car or a timeshare condo. Instead, if my gamble pays off, I might be spared the flu this winter season.

However, this may be one of the last years that I have to keep my fingers crossed that the vaccine might work.  In future years getting a flu shot may become a safe bet.

In a significant step against the disease that affects billions of people each year, scientists at Oxford University in the UK, just announced that they have successfully tested a universal flu vaccine that could work against all known strains of the illness.

This new vaccine targets a different part of the flu virus to traditional vaccines, meaning it does not need expensive reformulation and guess work  every year to try and match the most prevalent strains of the virus that are circulating the world.

The team, led by Dr Sarah Gilbert at the Jenner Institute, developed a vaccine that targets proteins inside the flu virus that are common across all strains, instead of those that sit on the virus’s external coat, which are liable to mutate.

If used widely, a universal flu vaccine could prevent pandemics, such as the swine flu outbreaks of recent years, and could even end the need for a seasonal flu jab.

A universal vaccine would save the time and money now needed to create vaccines to fight whatever particular virus has emerged in any given year.  The process of developing a seasonal vaccine takes at least four months and if the flu strain is highly pathogenic the delay means people get sick and die before the vaccine is ready.

If we were using the same vaccine year in, year out, it would be more like vaccinating against other diseases like tetanus,” said Gilbert. “It would become a routine vaccination that would be manufactured and used all the time at a steady level. We wouldn’t have these sudden demands or shortages – all that would stop.”

While traditional vaccines prompt the body to create antibodies, Gilbert’s vaccine boosts the number of the body’s T-cells, another key part of the immune system which can identify and destroy cells that have been infected by a virus.

In her trial, Gilbert vaccinated 11 healthy volunteers and then infected them, along with 11 non-vaccinated volunteers, with a strain of flu virus.  She then monitored the volunteers’ symptoms twice a day.  Her results showed that the vaccine worked as planned.

Fewer of the people who were vaccinated got flu than the people who weren’t vaccinated,” said Gilbert. “We did get an indication that the vaccine was protecting people, not only from the numbers of people who got flu but also from looking at their T-cells before we gave them flu. The people we vaccinated had T-cells that were more activated. The people we hadn’t vaccinated had T-cells as well but they were in a resting state so they would probably have taken longer to do anything. The volunteers we vaccinated had T-cells that were activated, primed and ready to kill. There were more T-cells in people we vaccinated and they were more activated.”

The trial proved two important things about the vaccine: First, it showed that it was safe; and second it proved that giving people flu virus in the presence of lots of T-cells induced by the vaccine was absolutely fine.

What we’ll probably do is take the existing flu vaccine and mix in the new virus-vector vaccine, so you get both good antibodies and good T-cells. As well as giving you the antibodies for this season’s strain of flu, we’ll give you some T-cells that will cover this season, next year, and thereafter. It may not be 100% effective against all strains, but at least if there were a pandemic coming around, it would cover you for any strain.”

It is also believed that the vaccine could provide better protection against flu for older people. Traditional flu vaccines are effective in about 70-80% of young people, but only 30-40% of older people, because the older people’s immune systems are less efficient at making new antibodies.

The next step for the new vaccine is a larger scale trial comparing several thousand people who are given and not given the vaccine.

Although that means a commercial product is still some years away, this study represents some potentially very exciting findings not only for flu but possibly for other infectious diseases.

SRxA’s Word on Health looks forward to bringing you this news as it happens.

Halloween “Creepy-Crawlies” give parents the Heebie-Jeebies

For many parents one of the scariest things this Halloween will be the note their little monster brings home from school saying that a case of head lice has been detected.

While the make-believe vampires are prowling for candy, head lice are looking for a real blood meal,” says Dr. Andrew Bonwit, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Loyola University Health System.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 6 to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children aged 3 to 11.

Although head lice biting feed on blood the bite will rarely, if ever, be painful. In fact, the two main consequences of lice infestations are itching and emotional distress, particularly of the parent!

So, in the interests of parents mental health this Halloween, SRxA is pleased to share with you Dr Bonwit’s Top Tall Tales About Lice. (Try saying that one with your mouth full of candy!)

Myth 1: Lice are caused by being dirty. Personal hygiene and socioeconomic status have nothing to do with having or transmitting head lice. The head louse is an equal-opportunity pest!

Myth 2 Pets spread lice: Animals are not known to carry head lice nor to transmit them to people

Myth 3: Beware sharing hairbrushes and personal items to avoid lice. Although it’s probably best not to share such items as combs, hairbrushes and hats, these do not seem to transmit the pest. Transmission of lice seems to occur only by direct head-to-head contact from one person to another

Myth 4: Kids with lice should be sent home from school immediately. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse “no-nit” policies that exclude children from school because nits are present. In fact, even the presence of mature head lice is not considered a valid reason to exclude children, only a cause for prompt referral to the physician for treatment

Myth 5: Lice carry disease. Head lice do not transmit serious infectious.

Having got that straight, it’s worth emphasizing that lice are very treatable.  A simple over-the-counter or prescription insecticidal shampoo or lotion applied to the scalp, left on for a specified time and rinsed off is usually all that’s needed. As the life cycle of lice is about seven days from the laying of the eggs to the hatching, a second treatment, seven days after the first is recommended to prevent further infestation.

Which only leaves you with the vampires to worry about!

Happy Halloween.

Taking a Break

For the past 20 months, through blizzards and business travel, heatwaves, holidays and hospitalizations, SRxA’s Word on Health has posted at least three new blogs every week.

Now it’s time to lay down the red pen and head off to the beach for a little R&R.  We’ll be back next week refreshed, revitalized and ready to bring you all the latest stories on health, medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. While we’re gone, why don’t you let us know what you’d like to see more (or less) of.  Tell us about the stories you’ve enjoyed or the topics you’d like to see us cover.

Pharma Ads Under Fire

Although the back-to-school season has barely begun, both the pharmaceutical industry and the FDA have already received “could do better” report cards. According to researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, only 18% of 192 pharmaceutical advertisements in biomedical journals were compliant with FDA guidelines.  And, over half failed to include serious risks including death. The study, was the first in almost 20 years to provide a systematic assessment of the adherence of US pharmaceutical ads to FDA guidance. Researchers looked at prescription pharmaceutical ads published in nine major peer-reviewed journals, including: the Annals of Internal Medicine,  Blood,  JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine, during the month of November 2008.  They evaluated adherence to FDA standards and the presence of safety information.  Of the 192 advertisements for 82 unique products, only 15 fully adhered to all 20 FDA Prescription Drug Advertising Guidelines. Advertisements contained bias with regard to a wide variety of issues:

  • 57.8% of the advertisements did not quantify serious risks
  • 48.2% lacked verifiable references
  • 28.9% failed to present adequate efficacy quantification

However, despite the high rates of FDA non-adherence, the mean number of biased features in each advertisement was low and most advertisements they reviewed satisfied the majority of FDA guidelines. Part of the problem it seems is that the FDA emphasizes avoiding frankly false information and balancing efficacy and safety information  but does little to encourage the presentation of useful and accurate information.  For example, an ad containing no specific efficacy claim, no quantification of drug safety and no verifiable references would adhere fully to FDA guidelines, despite presenting no practical information for clinicians.

Dr. Deborah Korenstein, lead author of the study and Associate Professor of Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine is concerned by the lack of adherence. “While the majority of physicians deny that advertisements inform their prescribing marketing research has consistently shown that journal advertising is the most profitable form of drug marketing, with an estimated return on investment of $5 for every dollar spent.” She does however acknowledge that it may be unrealistic to expect  ads to inform rational prescribing by presenting complete drug safety and efficacy, since they primarily serve a marketing function and are not designed to train physicians to prescribe.  Her advice?  “Physicians should ensure that their prescribing is informed by the clinical literature and not by marketing materials.” She also notes that the findings have important policy implications. Although he FDA has already demonstrated a desire to improve the quality of pharma ads, by enlisting doctors to review advertisements through its “Bad Ad” program, Korenstein suggests that the current FDA guidelines are subjective, challenging to enforce and do not emphasize transparency and the inclusion of basic information relevant to prescribing. She suggests that the FDA should update and simplify its guidelines for physician ads. According to her, guidelines should be straightforward and objective. They should ensure that ads present clear risk quantification, absolute benefit information, description of the appropriate population to receive the drug, and verifiable references to published peer-reviewed  literature. In other words, the FDA may hold the key to improving the quality of pharmaceutical advertisements rather than the industry itself.

Asthma Strikes Rock and Republican Heavyweights

SRxA’s Word on Health was reminded last week about the dangers of asthma. By some bizarre coincidence, two heavyweight celebrities suffered acute asthma attacks just hours apart last Thursday.  First, New Jersey Governor and rumored presidential candidate Chris Christie was struck by an attack, en route to a press conference.  When his rescue inhaler didn’t do the trick he was taken to hospital by state troopers and spent the afternoon undergoing a number of tests. After being released Christie told the press that he believed his attack was brought on by the recent extreme heat and humidity

Just hours later, Meat Loaf, collapsed at the Trib Amphitheater in Pittsburgh following a rendition of his hit, “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”  He explained what happened to the audience later in the show saying: “I have asthma, I can’t breathe.”  Meat Loaf recovered and went on to his next performance which by  a further twist of coincidence just happened to be in New Jersey.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, every day in America:

  • 40,000 people miss school or work due to asthma.
  • 30,000 people have an asthma attack.
  • 5,000 people visit the emergency room due to asthma.
  • 1,000 people are admitted to the hospital due to asthma.
  • 11 people die from asthma.

An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from asthma. The prevalence of asthma has been increasing since the early 1980s across all age, sex and racial groups and is the most common chronic condition among children.

Asthma accounts for one-quarter of all emergency room visits in the U.S. each year, with 2 million emergency room visits.  Each year, asthma accounts for more than 10 million outpatient visits and 500,000 hospitalizations. There are more than 4,000 deaths due to asthma each year, many of which are avoidable with proper treatment and care. In addition, asthma is indicated as a “contributing factor” for nearly 7,000 other deaths each year.

After his asthma attack, Christie said “I feel a sense of urgency with the stress level of my job to take care of it.

Words to live or sing by!