WHO vs. trolls and bots

“Click here to sign a meaningless petition I created to ban this thing I don’t like.” “Give this posting a ‘like’ or Jesus won’t like you anymore.” “Read this story about how vaccines will kill your baby.” Thanks, Facebook. Yeah, it’s more complicated than that, but we can probably agree that FB should only be used to see what your high school crush looks like today, not as a source of news. WHO has reported a 30% increase in the number of measles cases from 2016 to 2017 and they say the increase falls squarely on the shoulders of vaccine hesitancy. According to the BBC, the Americas, Europe, and the Eastern Mediterranean show the largest increases in incidence. Here’s a list of common vaccine myths. Let’s see…given the fact that this writer won’t be conducting his own primary research on the topic anytime soon, should I choose to trust WHO and CDC or should I trust the Russian trolls and bots on Facebook? That’s a tough one.

Can I get your digits?

You give me your zip code and I’ll tell you how long you’re likely to live. Deal? A new study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides the life expectancy average by US zip code here. While the US average is 78.8 years, the figures can change drastically, even across neighborhoods. “In Washington, D.C., for example, people living in the Barry Farms neighborhood face a life expectancy of 63.2 years. Yet, less than 10 miles away, a baby born in Friendship Heights and Friendship Village can expect to live 96.1 years, according to CDC data.” Whoa. A pretty cool article outlines how increased spending on local programs (public goods, police) can increase life expectancy. In fact, there are programs where you can apply for grant money to improve your community’s life expectancy metrics.

#2 pencils and condoms

The rise in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases has one Maryland, US county including condoms as part of a back-to-school goody bag. Nothing new, right? Plenty of school systems do that these days. The news is in the catalyst for the decision. According to the CDC, a record number—more than 2 million—cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in 2017, up more than 200,000 over 2016—also a record at the time. 15- to 24-year-olds make up about half. Gonorrhea and syphilis were up 67% and 76%, respectively from 2013 to 2017. Wow. Compounding the issue is the CDC’s concern for an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea, which increased in incidence from 1% in 2013 to 4% in 2017. Here is a review of research on the effects of condom distribution in schools. In summary…chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis: difficult to spell, easy to catch.


Ready for a dip in the pool? Might want to wait until November. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July is the peak month for sickness due to swimming in public places. Germs such as E. coli and cryptosporidium “…make people sick when they swallow water contaminated with poop,” the CDC inelegantly reported last week.  “Swimmers can be a source of fecal contamination if they have a fecal incident [a.k.a., “sh!##ing oneself”] in the water…” stated the researchers. Thanks, Captain Obvious. But fear not, if a “fecal incident” is suspected, Carl Spangler will take care of it. In the meantime, can we all just agree to not poop in the pool?

Suicide rates skyrocketing

According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suicide rates are up 30% since 1999. 30%. Isolation and drug abuse (think: alcohol, opioids) are considered among the leading causes. This is notable on the heels of recent high-profile suicides by designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. All age groups (except over 75), all US states (except Nevada, which was already very high) and all levels of urbanization have seen increases. Interestingly / sadly, more than half of suicides occurred in individuals with no mental health diagnosis, which seems to mean that people who need help aren’t reaching out or not receiving it. So, if you need help you can start with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800-273-8255. #NoStigma

It’s snot great

Americans are experiencing the full wrath of the flu this year, with the CDC reporting that all ten of their administrative regions are experiencing elevated levels of influenza like illness. There’s a few reasons for that. The big one is that this year’s strain is one of the particularly nasty ones; it gets more people sick and makes those people sicker. Plus, this year we got unlucky with the vaccine: it’s only proven to be about 30% effective this year. But hey, at least we’re doing better this flu season than Australia did. Their vaccine only managed to protect 10% of users. Don’t let those rates worry you though, officials are still encouraging getting vaccinated. What else are you gonna do, wrap dirty socks around your neck?

Swab, Spit, or Blood

We’ve all seen the Ancestry.com ads for DNA tests that reveal your ethnic mix. Harmless enough. But what if a similar test indicated you had a low risk for coronary heart disease? Would you start swallowing these 2,000+ calorie bombs at every meal? Not harmless. Consumers are increasingly embracing genetic health risk (GHR) testing to understand their individual risk for developing diseases and the FDA recently released an update to streamline the development and review pathway for GHR tests. These tests can be valuable for drug development (see how Novartis is using genetic testing in an Alzheimer’s trial) and treatment decisions and the CDC has some thoughts on the topic.

More like nope-iods

CVS has announced a new policy to help curb the opioid crisis. According to NBC News, the pharmacy giant will now supply a maximum of 7 days of pills to patients prescribed the highly addictive medicine. According to a recent study conducted by the CDC, the average number of days for an opioid prescription rose to nearly 18 in 2015 compared to about 13 days in 2006—so CVS capping their dispensing at 7 days is a big deal. That feels a bit like saying, “if you really want to abuse opioids, you’re gonna have to make two trips to the drug store.” Nothing like more time in traffic to make you want to swallow a fistful of Vicodin.