Category Archives: Health

Fraudulent link between vaccines and autism continues to damage public health

There was a good article in the Washington Post today looking at the continuing public debate over use of vaccines to combat childhood diseases (“Trump energizes the anti-vaccine movement in Texas“).

The Post is no longer holding back in its news reporting on such issues.

For example:

President Trump’s embrace of discredited theories linking vaccines to autism has energized the anti-vaccine movement. Once fringe, the movement is becoming more popular, raising doubts about basic childhood health care among politically and geographically diverse groups.

Public health experts warn that this growing movement is threatening one of the most successful medical innovations of modern times. Globally, vaccines prevent the deaths of about 2.5 million children every year, but deadly diseases such as measles and whooping cough still circulate in populations where enough people are unvaccinated.

Later in the article, the Post states directly: “The modern anti-vaccine movement is based on a fraud.” A study published almost 20 years ago purported to show a link between childhood vaccines and autism. The data was later found to be falsified, and the study was retracted.”

And there’s an important link to a report in thebjm discussing how the research that originally claimed a link between childhood vaccines and autism was rigged when the researchers were paid to come up with data to support a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. It was later shown the data were manipulated and rigged in order to show a relationship that didn’t actually exist.

See also:

“British Doctor Faked Data Linking Vaccines to Autism, and Aimed to Profit From It”, Popular Science, January 2011.

The research linking autism to vaccines is even more bogus than you think,” Vox.com, January 2017

Threats and fines don’t matter when you’ve got to go

An Associated Press story about Rep. Gene Ward’s proposal to create “urine free zones” that would attach a fines up to $2,000 to the act of relieving one’s bladder without benefit of toilet was picked across the country this week.

What madness. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. At that point it’s pee in your clothes or in the bushes. Threats and fines don’t help.

When I was on the staff of the Star-Bulletin and often had multiple things to do downtown, I recall my mental map of accessible places to pee. It was in self-defense, as more and more places started locking up their restrooms. It worked pretty well, although on one or two occasions I found myself looking around for potential locations “just in case” I wasn’t able to reach a safe zone in time.

I wrote about the issue back in a 2008 column. I think it was the same year that a bill or two pushed the need for public restrooms, and had mainstream support from Catholic Charities, as I recall.

I’m reprinting that column below. Nothing seems to have changed in the interim.

When you’ve got to go
by Ian Lind
Honolulu Weekly, March 20, 2008

It’s one of those messages that you don’t want to see at a moment of crisis: “Sorry, no public restrooms.”

Although the discomfort of finding yourself in urgent need of a toilet is often fodder for comedians, getting caught in that situation is no laughing matter. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, but the number of publicly accessible toilets in Honolulu has been rapidly dwindling as businesses have restricted previously available facilities, citing the high costs of maintenance, and neither state nor county governments have stepped up to address the resulting problems.

Legislators haven’t responded either, perhaps because of the stigma associated with public discussion of toilets. This year, a bill has passed the State House and is awaiting action in the Senate extending a 2004 law making it illegal to urinate or defecate in public anywhere in the downtown business district despite the fact that publicly accessible toilets are hard to find, while another bill that would have required businesses to open existing toilets to the public died without a hearing.

Honolulu’s bus system doesn’t provide public toilets even at major transfer points, despite its reliance on several long-haul routes, and transit planners have pointedly stated that they have no intention of building restrooms into stations along the proposed new rail line.

So with businesses locking their toilets, a dearth of public facilities, and laws against emergency stops in public, this can be a very serious issue. My wife points out that even planning a simple shopping trip requires taking into consideration available rest stops, and the challenges are more serious for those with special needs, including families with small children, pregnant women, those with medical conditions, the elderly and disabled. For them, as well as many of the rest of us, a long commute, a shopping trip, or any other excursion away from home can lead to embarrassing and uncomfortable incidents.

The American Restroom Association, a Washington-based education and advocacy group, views the lack of publicly available toilets as a serious personal and public health issue in the U.S.

Association president Robert Brubaker, in a November 2007 interview, called for Americans “to start talking about restrooms and speak up for them just as they do for streetlights and sidewalks.”

Brubaker attributed the lack of publicly accessible facilities both to Americans reticence to openly discuss toilet use, and to a policy gap in laws at the federal, state, and local levels.

Federal labor regulations protects the health of workers by requiring employers to provide a minimum number of bathrooms depending on the type of business and the number of employees, but there’s no requirement that they serve the public. The federal Department of Health and Human Services, which should be serving up laws and rules to provide sanitation facilities for the general public, has failed to act on proposals for public restroom standards. For the most part, restroom access has been governed by state and local regulations.

Most local governments, including here in Hawaii, have adopted provisions of the Uniform Plumbing Code, which sets out standards for the required number of toilets in most buildings. The UPC also requires that those toilets be accessible to all “occupants”, meaning that if a building or business allows the public to enter as customers, they must also be provided access to the building’s restrooms.

Those restrooms available only to employees aren’t counted by the UPC when determining whether a building complies with the requirement.

But a funny thing happened here in the islands. Although the City and County of Honolulu adopted most of the Uniform Plumbing Code, the sections dealing with toilet facilities were deleted and do not apply, or “may be used as a guide only.”

Similarly, the State Department of Health has adopted provisions for “sanitary facilities” in auditoriums, churches, theaters, “amusement places”, and “buildings of public assembly”, along with schools, dormitories, and bars. But DOH regulations covering restaurants, markets, and other businesses “do not include the
provision for public use,” again failing to serve the broader public interest, and those applying to office buildings and other retail businesses are absent.

What can be done? In Portland, Oregon, a community advocacy group calling itself PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human) has pushed the city to explore options for meeting the need for public toilets. In one report, PHLUSH reviewed a number of urban options, including automated restrooms that clean themselves after each use, portable toilets, freestanding restrooms supported by advertising, and even storefront rest stops that combine toilet facilities with community services, perhaps offering free space to social service agencies in exchange for managing the public toilets.

Working with students and professors from a local university, PHLUSH initiated a study of existing facilities and needs, and has worked with city officials to find innovative solutions to what is really a basic need. Similar cooperative efforts to address this public health issue here at home are long overdue.

A news story hits home…

If you’re at all techie, and maybe even if you’re not, you may have seen news reports of a young couple in Berkeley, California, found dead in their duplex apartment. Also found dead were their two cats.

Initially a local story, the mystery deaths soon made national and international news.

And by Friday, published reports (citing unnamed sources) said the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning from a 3D printer in their apartment.

A terribly painful story, for sure.

But for us, it was even more painful because it was personal. The dead woman was the daughter of a good friend and colleague of Meda’s who teaches at Michigan State University. She and Meda have collaborated on many publications and research projects, and stay in close touch.

It didn’t take long for the shocking news to spread through the national network of feminist criminologists.

I thought to myself…this just isn’t the kind of thing that happens to people you know. And when it does, it necessarily threatens your own sense of personal safety and security.

We had visited the couple and their cats while in Berkeley for a conference in 2013. We had dinner at their apartment, and of course spent time with their two unusual big-eyed cats, which also turned out to be very smart and would perform tricks in exchange for freeze-dried treats.

Roger, a computer game designer, had been developing his own approach to design of nonviolent games that did not rely on the militarized scenarios of mainstream games. She was a post-doctoral researcher. Two successful careers were well underway.

What can you say? Hug your loved ones. Be glad that you woke up this morning.

And maybe take that 3D printer off your shopping list.

Cataracts, Round 2

Wow!

That’s my reaction this morning after Round 2 of cataract surgery.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of the story. Here’s the long version of the tale. I followed instructions. No food or drink after midnight the night before, or just enough to swallow any regular meds taken in the morning. I reported to the small surgery center just after noon yesterday, again left all of my belongings in a locker and exchanged my shirt for a hospital version, had a few sensors stuck around my chest, and then was led out and settled back in a comfy chair in an adjacent prep area. This is where I was repeatedly asked my name and birthdate (I suppose to check that you’ve not in shock or otherwise out of your normal senses), had my eyes repeatedly doused with four different types of drops (at least that was my count), was asked several times to confirm I was there for cataract removal in the left eye (my left cheek was marked two separate times to make that clear) and insertion of a new lens for intermediate-distance vision, heard the mantra of post-surgery care instructions repeated a couple of times, was visited by the doctor, then the anesthesiologist, got the hair net and shoe nets installed, was asked to hold a handful of plastic tubing after one end was placed in my nostrils to deliver oxygen and who knows what else, watched while the IV catheter was inserted and taped onto the back of my hand, and after several passes by the nurse with a small flashlight in the eyes, was deemed ready to go.

The chair was returned to its upright position and I was led into the laser room to another chair where I was again seated and lowered until I was flat on my back, and the laser equipment was slid over until I looked directly up into its flat eye. My right eye was covered. First step, the laser came in close, I was instructed to look into the center of three bright lights, where a small red patch appeared. Apparently photos were being taken for last minute calibration, and then the main show, maybe 2-1/2 minutes with the laser going, instructions with numbers being called out between the surgeon and the technicians, calming updates being directed down to me with instructions to hold still and keep staring into the same spot, and then a final countdown, twenty seconds, ten seconds, five seconds, and this phase was over.

Then I was quickly unplugged, prepared to stand, and led off into the second stage of the surgery where, I think, the new lens was to be inserted. That meant another chair, the various wires and tubes getting plugged in, another machine eye staring back into mine, and then to tell the truth I lost track. I was going to stay awake but apparently didn’t, as I recall being told that the job was done and a plastic shield had been taped over my left eye and should be left in place overnight, then worn to bed for a week. Not a patch that blocked vision, but a clear plastic shield that blurred the vision in that eye. At this point I was again walked out for probably 15 minutes of recovery, where blood pressure was repeatedly taken and I was offered juice or coffee and a few crackers. Then I was led back to the small room, my locker opened, I packed up my belongings, which included iPhone, watch, wallet, etc., and was walked down the hall to a room where I waited a few minutes until Meda showed up to spring me.

I did feel a little light-headed when first getting home, but after a few bites to eat, and a short nap, I felt good enough to cook and eat dinner.

I really couldn’t tell how my vision was going to turn out until this morning. It was still dark when I got up, went down the hall to the bathroom, removed the eye shield, then walked out into the living room escorted by Romeo and Duke, and finally turned on the light.

Explanation. I chose what is referred to as mono vision. It means each eye is different. My right eye has a lens for distance vision, which has proved to be excellent. My left eye, new as of yesterday, got a lens geared to intermediate vision. It won’t focus all the way to infinity, nor will it focus up close. There’s a small range where I’ll need reading glasses that will be prescribed once my eyes have time to adjust to the new reality. At first glance this morning, though, the world looked great. I could look outside and see clearly, then shift my gaze into the kitchen and read the clock on the stove several feet away, and everything in between. Walking across the room to the dining table where my laptop was set up, I could read at that extended computer distance. But I couldn’t read the markings on the syringe to give Duke his morning insulin shot. For that I had to borrow Meda’s drug store reading glasses, not fancy but they worked.

So it’s a whole new world, for the second time in two weeks.

I return for a post-op checkup this morning, and again next week, with a final check in one month.

To tell the truth, I just wish I had opted to do this sooner.