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E. Coli Outbreak Is Traced Back To Ready-To-Bake Cookie Dough

The investigation of a multistate outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 (STEC) that sickened 77 people and hospitalized 35 was traced back to ready-to-bake cookie dough, prompting infectious disease specialists to ask for stronger pasteurization and more consumer warnings.

like smack by Robert S. Donovan via Flickr and a Creative Commons licenseA report in Clinical Infectious Diseases outlined the outbreak and the work done by national and local health officials to track down the source.

No single source could be identified for certain for the outbreak. But one brand of dough was present in 94% of cases, and three nonoutbreak STEC strains were isolated from it, leading to a recall of 3.6 million packages of the cookie dough.

The detective work began with May 19, 2009, through PulseNet, the network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by the CDC. It identified Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

CDC Outlines The Steps For Investigating Disease Outbreaks

With the release of the movie Contagion, I thought it would be appropriate to post my cheat sheet on how to investigate a disease outbreak. Aspiring disease detectives take notes!

Scientist in biocontainment suit examining a dead ratWhat do you think of when you hear the word “outbreak”?  Maybe you envision a population decimated by a terrible, novel, and incurable disease like in the aformentioned movie Contagion or you think of Dustin Hoffman roaming around California in a blue biocontainment suit with Rene Russo trying to protect folks from a tiny monkey and narrowly preventing an airstrike by the US military?

Hollywood has done their best to capture what an outbreak is…but here are the facts. An outbreak, or epidemic, occurs when there are more cases of disease than would normally be expected in a specific time and place.  The disease may be something doctors have already seen before just in a new form or abnormally high numbers, such as foodborne or healthcare-associated infections, or it may be an emerging disease that we don’t know much about like SARS.  Either way, we need to investigate to determine why it is happening and how to prevent other people from getting sick or dying. Several people in biocontainment suits collecting samples outside a building

Outbreaks are usually noticed by an astute clinician, such as those who first noticed AIDS in New York City and San Francisco, but there are also many high tech disease detection systems available to help us spot any increase in illness. PulseNet is a laboratory network that uses PFGE (pulsed-field gel electrophoresis) to help identify foodborne outbreaks by monitoring the genetic make-up of the bacteria causing what may otherwise look like unrelated illnesses. In the recent events of the Salmonella outbreak in ground turkey, PulseNet and the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System helped identify the cause of the outbreak as well as determine how widely it had spread. Programs such as Biosense and First Watch monitor the chief complaint or reason that someone called 9-1-1 or went to the hospital (aka syndromic surveillance).  We also monitor news media for reports of outbreaks and websites such as Google Flu trends, which tracks circulating viruses and illnesses. With new technology ordinary citizens can also increasingly report outbreaks in their communities too.

The Magic Formula

So how do you figure out the who, what, when, and where of a disease outbreak? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Public Health Matters Blog*

New Contrast Agent Provides Better In Vivo Imaging Of Bacteria

A new contrast agent based on maltodextrin has been developed at Georgia Tech that can provide in vivo imaging of bacteria with a sensitivity two orders of magnitude greater than previously achieved.

Unlike most previous methods, the new probes are able to enter bacterial cells by pretending to be food, while avoiding being ingested by the mammalian cells.

From Georgia Tech:

Maltodextrin-based imaging probes consist of a fluorescent dye linked to maltohexaose, which is a major source of glucose for bacteria. The probes deliver the contrast agent into bacteria through the organism’s maltodextrin transporter, which only exists in bacterial cells and not mammalian cells.

In experiments using a rat model, the researchers found that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

The CDC Reports That Salmonella Is Still A Major Problem

Salmonella food infections continue despite success reducing disease caused by other pathogens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Easter 2010 by by raleighwoman via Flickr and a Creative Commons licenseSalmonella should be targeted because while infection rates have not declined significantly in more than a decade, they are one of the most common, the CDC reports in its latest Vital Signs.

Contaminated food causes approximately 1,000 reported disease outbreaks and an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths annually in the U.S. Salmonella causes 1 million foodborne infections annually, incurring an estimated $365 million in direct medical costs. Salmonella infections in 2010 increased 10% from 2006-2008.

The same prevention measures that reduced Escherichia coli infections to less than 1 case per 100,000 need to be applied more broadly to reduce Salmonella and other infections, the CDC reports. These measures include: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

5 Avoidable Air Travel Health Risks

For those of you planning air travel to your next medical conference (and ACP Internist isn’t too shameless to plug Internal Medicine 2011 — we hope to see you there), TIME reports that there are five health risks that are rare yet have recently happened. Tips on avoiding these maladies include:

E. Coli and MRSA on the tray table. Microbiologists found these two everywhere when they swabbed down flights. Bring your own disinfecting wipes.

Bedbugs in the seat. British Airways fumigated two planes after a passenger posted pictures online about her experience. Wrap clothes in plastic and wash them.

Sick seatmates. Everyone has experienced (or been) this person. Wash your hands.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Tennis star Serena Williams experienced a pulmonary embolism, possibly related to recent foot surgery. But DVT can happen to anyone restrained to a cramped position for long periods of time. Move around in-flight (but not during the beverage service, of course.)

Dehydration. Dry cabin air may make it more difficult to fight off infections. Drink more water.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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