Health

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to Ebola"

Don't panic is the message.

Ebola is a scary disease, made much more scary by some wildly exaggerated claims in some books and movies. So, before we talk about Ebola, let's talk about another scary disease called "rabies."

It's a virus, serum transmitted -- meaning contact with blood, saliva, or other bodily fluids from an infected individual is needed to transmit the disease. Thousands of people die of it worldwide, every year. Once you've sickened with it, become symptomatic, the symptoms are pretty horrible, and there's really no effective treatment. People who develop the symptoms are very likely to die.

In fact, the number of people who have survived active rabies can be counted on one hand with fingers left over.


"How to Fight Cancer (When Cancer Fights Back)"

What an evil, evil disease cancer is.

In the classical view of cancer, a cell picks up mutations until it shakes off the checks and balances that restrain its growth, allowing it to divide uncontrollably and turn into a tumor. This linear process is a macabre version of that famous image where a chimp walks to the right and gradually morphs into a human hunter. And both visuals are wrong. In reality, tumors quickly become seething masses of varied cells, all with their own mutations. One area might start growing faster; its neighbor might come to evade the immune system. Over time, the fittest lineages produce more descendants and rise to dominance—the essence of Darwinian natural selection. So forget the linear march. The better visual is that of a tree, with an initial trunk radiating into a web of branches. In 1837, Charles Darwin drew one such tree in one of his notebooks to represent how species evolve from a common ancestor. He could just as easily have been sketching the birth of a tumor.


"An Hour of Running May Add 7 Hours to Your Life"

In this story in the New York Times the last sentence of the second paragraph is "The analysis found that as little as five minutes of daily running was associated with prolonged life spans". And I thought, it's obvious the causality for that fact runs from health to running. Way down in the story, second paragraph from the end, there's this:

Of course, the findings in this new review are associational, meaning that they prove that people who run tend also to be people who live longer, but not that running directly causes the increases in longevity. Runners typically also lead healthy lives, Dr. Lee says, and their lifestyles may be playing an outsize role in mortality.

This should have appeared much earlier in the piece, but if it had the reporter and the editor probably would have decided that they didn't actually have a story.  So I give the Times an A for (finally) stating that but an F for putting it in the next-to-last paragraph. The average is a C, which is probably pretty good for the Times these days.


"How the feds are letting germs run wild in hospitals"

If you lack things to worry about, try this.

Alarming new research shows one of the deadliest bugs, nicknamed CRE, is actually striking three times more patients than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us. One lesson from the war against AIDS: level with the public about the enormity of a problem if you want to start defeating it.

Yet government authorities are doing the opposite, helping hospitals conceal superbug outbreaks from the public and deliberately leaving infections off death certificates.

Or this: "Could North Korea Destroy the US?" (Not directly, but they could quite possibly destroy our electrical grid.)