The Jenny McCarthy Mistake

ABC today announced that Jenny McCarthy will replace Elisabeth Hasselbeck as a co-host of the daily talker, “The View.” I normally don’t talk pop culture here but this is a significant hire for many of the wrong reasons. Many know Ms. McCarthy from her days on MTV and Playboy but I think her most infamous activities have been as an active anti-vaccine crusader due to the misinformed view that vaccine use caused autism.

Since the refutation of this link, there has been a gradual ramping down of the rhetoric linking the two but the damage has been done. It is amazing how in the age that we live in, we have gone from an era of little information, trusting our medical professionals almost blindly to information overload and the potential to spread total misinformation. The age of the internet provides all of us with powerful tools to question many things around us but it is the validity of the information that we acquire that makes the difference. Jenny McCarthy is now a figurehead in an already uphill battle in maintaining herd immunity or more simply a high, constant level of people within a population who are vaccinated against controllable diseases. Giving her this forum I think is highly irresponsible on ABC’s behalf and could act as a soapbox for more widely disseminated discussion and misinformation to a population that is overloaded with all types of information from many questionable sources. 


Media Misfire on Bacteria in Water Fountains

Part of teaching microbiology to my students who look to become the health care practitioners of tomorrow is also educating the public at large about the risk of microbes. I take this very seriously and I read as much of the latest research as possible in order to do this. Even a short presentation to an academic audience requires a lot of preparation to provide as much useful and timely information as possible. I am a bit distressed however when I see news reports that distort or twist information in such a way that could cause panic among the general population. Case in point, I was watching the Fox DC morning news yesterday morning when a report came on about drinking fountains and bacteria. As I watched this report, there were some points discussed that I took major issue with. In summation, the research took place in Tampa, Fla along the Pinellas Trail where water fountains are placed for those that traverse the area. Of the ten tested water fountains, water from three contained bacteria commonly found on toilets, cell phones and purse bottoms.  First, the sample size of ten cannot be applied to the population of water fountains as a whole. This research (as first reported by the The Suncoast News) states that the Pinellas trail water fountains and others in various sites around the area were being tested for harmful bacteria and to alert county officials of any findings. At no point in this article were any of the researchers making any claims that these findings could be common nationwide. So why was this report delivered in such a way that these and other facts listed in the article were not discussed?

Watch the report:

Many factors were ignored in this report in addition to the small sample size. The environment where the water fountains are and the activities that occur at these water fountains. Researchers observed walkers allowing dogs to drink directly from the fountain, so that could account for this area but not all water fountains have this source of bacteria as a problem. Also, if the infrastructure providing the water is intact, how much of a role could the animals in this environment contribute to the increased bacterial numbers? Fox DC in my opinion could create a mini stir among the general population with this report by nit-picking out the major details and focusing on the pieces that made this a “story.” When talking to an audience that wants news and needs to hear as much as the facts as possible, this story does a disservice to all. Explaining scientific concepts or more importantly public health interest research requires that ALL of the facts be laid out and explained in a way that minimizes fear and panic and places emphasis on informing and offering common sense solutions as the research can support. This was a very disappointing job of presenting interesting information for the sake of ratings and sensationalism.

Protect yourself, protect others during this flu season

Lately I have moments where I ask myself why am I still on Facebook. It was so much better in college, now it has lost it’s luster and fun. But I remind myself that the major reason I hang on is to keep in touch with friends and most importantly family. It was family that prompted me to write this blog entry as you can learn and get so much from a Facebook status. As I scrolled my timeline yesterday, one of my cousins stated that she was sick but she was going to press on to church. Hmmmm…now don’t take this the wrong way as I do not want to make this a blog entry about going to church. Nor do I want to pick on church but I want to talk about going places like church when we are sick and in the midst of a horrific flu season. I understand the need and the desire to attend church weekly as we are taught. However,  I have always been very uncomfortable sitting in a service in the middle of winter with multiple people within earshot and far away coughing as if a lung is going to pop out and/or sneezing into tissues, sleeves or their hands. I know if I am sick, honestly the last thing I am thinking about is going anywhere but most especially I would not want to expose any mass gathering of people to my germs. 

I cannot think of any minister, pastor or bishop who would tell you to not come to church under any circumstances. These folks are constantly encouraging you to come in, take your seat and worship. When you enter, you should feel that you are entering not only a sacred space, but a stress-free space where the worries of the day and the week past and coming can melt away. But then the coughing starts behind you, the sneezes start next to you and your stress level increases. As your stress level increases, your immunity drops and leaves you more susceptible to getting sick. No one wants you to NOT come to church, but when you are sick I think the man upstairs will truly understands if you sit one out in order to not only get yourself well but to also reduce the chance to getting others (the very young, the elderly and everyone in between) sick with your germs. That’s right, the population that you encounter in church, on your job and in other public places vary and many like the elderly and the young have immune systems that may not be as vigorous and robust enough to shake off exposure to cold and flu viruses. Or think about this another way if you go to church sick: If you were healthy, how would you feel if you were near someone who had the potential to make you sick from a cough, a sneeze, a handshake or touching a surface that may have germs on them? Not a good feeling thinking about it that way is it?

Many denominations have been very proactive in speaking to their member churches and providing guidance on gently encouraging parishioners to not attend services when sick, reducing contact among members during services and in some cases modifying communion protocols to reduce germ spread. Many of these items are common sense but because of our commitment to attending services, it unfortunately has to be said in order to show the importance keeping the chances of spreading disease to an absolute minimum. I ask you to heed these recommendations if they have been shared in your church community. If they have not been, use sound judgement and don’t go to church when you are very sick. Remember, if you don’t want someone to make you sick, why would you do that to someone else? 

Water and Infectious Diseases

Hello all! It has been a while since I have written. I am trying to slowly work my way back into writing more regularly. I have been busy in a very good way and here is one of those good ways. Last semester, I did a talk for a colleague’s seminar and the link is below. I hope you enjoy and provide feedback.

I have not and will not go gentle into that good night…

My poor, poor blog! All lonely and unused.  Academia has been good to me once again but it has kept me very busy. I am surprised that this blog hadn’t turned against me! I briefly forgot my password but it serves me right. I have been away way too long but much has happened, many lessons have been learned and from these lessons new ideas and a new way of thinking about what I do not only as an educator but as a Public Health Practitioner.

The way I want to use this blog has changed but that is what blogging is about, using the tool for the current environment. Lecturing my students on microbiology has been a blast and I am slowly working my way back into a rhythym and yet I see the void that exists in the world on how we view our delicate balance (or inbalance, depends on who you ask) with the microbial world. What do I want to do now? Well not too much from what I am doing now, just  doing it more often and concentrating on critically analyzing how changes in the microbial world are and could affect us. It seems that we spend a lot of time talking about all of the bad that occurs, new emerging diseases, reemerging diseases and how the microbes are winning.

We have had some good things happen:
— Rinderpest is on the path to eradication
— There is a new vaccine for the African meningitis belt, 300 million people are being targeted for the vaccine
— A Rapid TB test device has been created and recommended for use by the WHO
— There is a new push in polio vaccination in Africa.

Those were off the top of my head, but there are other things that are happening good for us as we do the constant tango with the microbial world. Of course there have been some other events of a political nature such as the Pope and his adjusted stance on condom use, but I would not want to use this blog as a political box but a change in stance (albeit very minor) can make a huge difference in how we address HIV/AIDS from an educational standpoint.

But really, if we all make some changes wouldn’t that make a huge difference in how we take the fight to the microbes? Will the new Food Safety Bill passed in the Senate give us better tools to ensure the safety of our food? We love food so much in this country that we have to save ourselves from ourselves. But it is not all about our love of food, it is also about the producers who love our money yet they give us substandard food. Do they do it out of greed? Depends on who you ask. I say it’s probably about 50/50, many are working to do the right thing but lack resources (money, manpower etc) to ensure that they are prepared. When the inspector walks in, they do the best they can but know they are wrong. The other half banks on the fact that inspections are few and far between and work to see how long they can get away with producing food products in less than desirable conditions. Should there be heftier consequences for these producers?  There should be, I am all for it!

All of this and everything I discussed in this blog entry make for great conversation and make excellent teaching points not only to those who are studying to work as health care professionals but for the general public as well. How we address the problem of infectious disease can take on many facets from the scientific, economic and political. But one thing is clear, each element has a place in the discussion and we cannot be afraid to neglect one area for fear of being one-tracked in our thinking on the subject. As I have said many times, coming together and putting our heads together is what is needed in order to best solve our collective problems.

Academic Mysteries

Teaching Anatomy/Microbiology as well as General Biology to restart my academic career, this time around as a full-time professor. I am finding that when you have been out of the game for a while, there are some areas that aren’t as polished and there are some points of information that one is used to delivering have either changed or need to be reviewed. Never thought the Microbiology part of my brain would be lacking but it is a bit. I found myself stumped by a question from a student but I was stumped because I did not do my due diligence to prepare for what was a minor point of  the topic of bacterial shapes and arrangements.

In order to redeem myself for what I felt was a bad day (the Labor Day holiday must have had a bigger toll on me than what I thought) I did the research that I should have done when I taught this class several years ago. What is the difference between a tetrad and a sarcinae of bacterial growth? Originally, I thought I had the answer but what I thought made no sense so I had to relent and say I had to do my homework.  I did solve the “mystery” and I will share the solution at a later time as I get back to more of the new discovery, research and education based entries I do here.

My other major issue now with one of my courses is trying to find an interesting, interactive activity for the microbiology portion of my Health Science course. I really want to incorporate the Public Health portion into the lectures and add some practicality to the class. I think my students will get so much more out of it. I am following a Professor on Twitter who is using the site as an educational tool to discuss HIV in her class and have her students tweet in response or when they find a topic that is related (with the appropriate hash tag). I don’t know if I would require students to get a Twitter account for a course, but I would like to do something that is technologically advanced, holds my students interest and has little dependence on social networking. Not to say that social networking is not important, it can prove to be a powerful tool as each person can learn from each other. My concern  is thinking about the possible wide divide amongst my students in technological comfort as well as how much some students interact with technology. Both of those items are related but my goal is education and not to make anyone feel left out with increased use of technology. I am going to keep thinking about this, I still have some time before I start the microbiology portion but if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to let me know.