Sunday, April 13, 2014

Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser, MD

I won an advanced copy of this book by Martin J. Blaser, MD from Goodreads. I have been interested in the affects that the overuse of antibiotics for a while, we've always been careful to avoid taking unnecessary medication. Most things pass on their own when the virus passes through your system.

Blaser explains so many things about antibiotics and his research that I'm not sure how to boil it down to fit in a review. He does a great job of looking at the side effects we've already seen from antibiotic usage around the world. Most of us know about drug resistance bacteria and disease, but it goes beyond that. The FDA finally announced that hand sanitizers do more harm then good, glad they caught up with the science (it took long enough).

Our immune systems and growth are being impacted as well. The use of broad spectrum antibiotics not only attacks the harmful bacteria inside our bodies but the bacteria that helps us digest various foods and regulate our immune responses. The bio-diversity of our bacteria is being negatively impacted by our obsession with cleanliness and getting rid of all "germs". We have neglected to realize that the bacteria contained within us (which actually make up most of our mass) evolved with us.

Blaser has linked the use of antibiotics with the increase in obesity, not just in the U.S. but all over the world. This includes areas where the western diets has not been adopted but the use of antibiotics has. The increase in height all around the world can be connected with the use of antibiotics as well. 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are sold to farmers specifically for the purpose of causing their livestock to grow faster and fatter while eating less. We then consume the meat containing these antibiotics. Though progress has been made on this front with 25 companies recently agreeing to reduce the sale of antibiotics to farmers.

His reasoning is sound and though the microbiome scientists haven't linked specific bacteria with obesity, allergies, asthma, etc. they have found very strong correlations. The sudden outbreak of allergies to commonly used foods strangely coincides with the dramatic increase in antibiotic use.

Ways you can help:

1. Only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary. Don't get them every time you or your child gets an ear infection (Over 80% are caused by viruses.). Check to make sure that your doctor doesn't give your newborn antibiotics automatically at birth without a specific cause. Most people are unaware of this practice in US hospitals. It's only necessary 1 in 200 cases, so 199 kids are getting unnecessary medication. Ask your dentist to not give you antibiotics unless there is an eminent risk of infection. After taking antibiotics you are more at risk to get sick from another infection, (strange that this isn't on any of the warning labels.) sometimes up to as long as 3 years later.

2. Stop using hand sanitizer. There is a layer of helpful bacteria on your skin, using hand sanitizer kills it off and increases your risk of disease and infection. Even the FDA has realized the negative impact of hand sanitizer use.

Other things that need to be done to improve the situation involve restricting the use of antibiotics on farm animals, paying pediatricians better so they can take more time with each patient to ensure a better diagnosis, better training for pediatricians, better tests for determining bacterial/viral infection status, better antibiotic development focusing on directed antibiotics, plus other methods to fight diseases.

I have barely scratched the surface of what Dr. Blaser had to say, I highly recommend this book.

Happy reading!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bucket List Item #19 - Accomplished!

Yesterday, I got to fulfill #19 on my bucket list. I met Kathy Reichs. (That number does not reflect any priority, just the random order of how things popped into my head as I made the list.) She and her son, Brendan, are doing a book tour for Exposure, their new YA novel from the "Virals" series. These books feature Tory Brennan, the niece of Temperance Brennan.

The location of the book talk/signing was a small, independent bookstore in Minneapolis called Wild Rumpus. Wild Rumpus is a magical and enchanting bookstore focused on young readers of all ages. They have a kid-sized door built into the adult door, a multitude of store pets including cats, chinchillas, and birds. I truly wish I didn't live an hour away from this place, I'd be there all the time. If you live in the area, please give them your patronage, if you live far away order from them online. (We need to support the independent bookstores.)

While we were waiting for the book talk to begin, the Girl got on to me for being to excited about meeting Kathy and acting too much like a giddy teenager. I told her it's allowed for me to get excited. I admit to gushy about meeting Kathy and the awesome bookstore, but there was no jumping up and down or squealing.

Kathy and Brendan were friendly, articulate, and even funny. It's obvious that they enjoy writing and working together, though it has its challenges. They encouraged questions about the Virals series, the Temperance series, and the Bones tv show. Kathy talked about not really wanting to do a cameo on the show, until she heard David Duchovny would be directing the episode. It's nice to see a famous person get just as starstruck and excited to meet someone as I am to meet them.

I got Bones are Forever signed, while the Girl got Exposure signed by them both. I wish I could have asked her more questions or been able to discuss science with her. Though I would have probably been too nervous to be a thoughtful conversation partner.

I did learn that "Bones" has been picked up for another season, the next Temperance Brennan novel will be out in September, and the next "Virals" novel will be about next year (probably April).

Many things are still hectic in my life, but I have completed one and a half of the things on my bucket list in less than a month. That isn't a bad start to a new year.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century by Kevin Fong

I've always been interested in science and medicine, but I admit that reading the Temperance Brennan series by Kathy Reichs helped draw my attention to this Goodreads giveaway for this book. The technical details about forensics in the series reawakened my desire for actual knowledge rather than my more casual interest of the past. So upon seeing Dr. Kevin Fong's book comparing and paralleling extreme medicine and exploration, I was intrigued.

Right away, I could feel Dr. Fong's passion for both medicine and exploration. The book is well organized and easily understandable. Dr. Fong is good at using analogies that make the body processes and affects on the body comprehensible. There are 9 different areas of focus, and all are kept to an easily readable length.

The first area of exploration is ice, we learn about Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated but crucial expedition to the South Pole and what happens to the body during hypothermia. Dr. Fong takes us through some of the technologies developed to allow us access to such temperature extremes so that we may learn more about our planet. And in the final segment about ice, we learn of the first time that doctors used hypothermia as a medical tool to save a live.

In the section on fire, we learn how World War I doctors and pilots provided the basis of modern day plastic surgery and why burn injuries are so dangerous.

In the heart section, I was shocked to learn that the heart was forbidden territory for a very long time, and that the field developed so quickly. There are many interesting personal stories in each section, that put a human face on these explorations into new medicine and environs, but if I share them here I'll be doing Dr. Fong's work for him.

Trauma and intensive care are closely associated with hospitals in my mind, and with each other. These two sections trace the development of each specialty. Our current procedures for triaging injuries in emergency situations comes from the personal tragedy of Dr. James K. Styner. He went on a crusade after his family was in a plane crash, and the local small town doctors didn't know how to prioritize cases. He had to function as his children's own emergency doctor while ignoring his own injuries. The inside look at the SARS epidemic and seeing how intensive care units were started was also interesting. I didn't know half of the side effects of polio, I guess my generation is lucky that way.

This passage from the water section gave me the shivers, the thing to remember is that Dr. Fong really did this. Imagine how terrifying it would be if it wasn't a training exercise.
"The water is rising fast now, already up to my waist, and every fiber of my body is telling me that I should unclip that harness and punch through that window. But to do that would be fatal. Free of the seat, I'd be swilled around the cabin by the inrush of water; finding my way to the exit and then locating the metal bar that jettisons the window would be impossible. If I'm to survive this, I have to wait. The water continues to bubble into the cabin. It's at my chest now, and the whole vehicle is overbalancing, skewed by the weight of the engines and rotors above, turning upside down in the darkness. The water is up to my chin as the cabin starts to rotate. These are my last few breaths, and I'm still strapped into my seat, resisting the urge to get the hell out of there."
The sections on Orbit and Mars, look at the medical challenges of space travel. Dr. Fong is an astrophysicist as well as a medical doctor, and he was lucky enough to get training at NASA on dealing with astronauts medical issues. I knew about the weakness they feel after an extended space stay, but knowing the reasons for it and how it's combated put a new perspective on things. Seeing the technologies that are being developed so that long term space travel can be achieved, along with the possible health issues resulting from a trip to Mars made me see why we haven't done it yet.

You would think that space travel would be as far as medicine could go, but it's not. The final frontier section looks at elderly medical care. It looks at how the body's systems slow down, and the delicate balance that doctors need to find. The judgement they need to decide whether it is more humane to treat the health issues or to let things run their course.
From the outside, progress often looks like it happens smoothly and is planned in advance. I like that Dr. Fong points out that leaps of progress are full of stops and starts and are often accidental. That we focus on the successes rather than the failures and the cost of getting to the successes.

Happy reading!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Item on the Bucket List Accomplished, Well Almost

Bill Nye was in Minneapolis, at the Mall of America last Sunday. He did a science demonstration at the rotunda. This event was advertised for kids, but most of the audience was adults. There was standing room only on all four levels of the mall. The ground floor barely had enough room for two people to pass each other behind the crowd. The seats filled up by 9 am, and I thought that getting there at 11 was early enough. These crowd pictures were actually taken about an hour before it started, the upper levels were even fuller when the even actually started. It's so exciting to live somewhere where a science demonstration got such a huge turn out.

 Bill Nye was charming, funny, and rolled with the technical difficulties without even batting an eye. He even gave the crowd a bit of the old soft shoe while they worked out a glitch. The event was sponsored by, a website that is a resource for teachers and offers resources for flipping the classroom. Bill has created some videos for them, it's really not surprising that he'd team up with such a group as science education and awareness is a focus of his.

They did demonstrations of various scientific concepts like the power of air and momentum. I have to admit, that I was partial to them using a giant air cannon made out of a trash can to blow out a candle. Making one of these air cannons maybe the summer project around our house. The used a bicycle wheel to show how spinning objects don't fall, and Bill sat on a spinning office chair and let the wheel move the chair. There was a game of tug-o-war, where the two sides were pulling against a vacuum of air less than an inch thick. I think the crowd favorite was watching Bill Nye apply a sledgehammer to a cinder block that was lying atop a man's chest while he laid on a bed of nails.


It was a great experience, even though I didn't actually get to officially meet Bill. It was a crowd full of my tribe: the geeks, nerds, dorks. There were people dressed up in superhero costumes and handmade Viking helmets. Most everyone was very nice and considerate despite the crowded conditions. Maybe I was just having a fan-girl high. Even stores on the other side of the mall got into the spirit of the event.
I only have two regrets: 1) the demonstration only went until 2 instead of 3, and 2) Bill didn't stick around for autographs. So my bucket list item of meeting him wasn't quite met, but I did get to see a pen that was given to him by Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

13 Quick Shivers Anthology

I saw this book on Goodreads as one of their giveaways, I thought the concept of horror stories only 100 words long to be intriguing so I entered to win. I had not heard of the website that put together this anthology, and all the authors were new to me. I didn't know that they support Midwest (local for me) authors and I'm still not quite sure what "snob horror" is as a genre.

I am a voracious reader and frequently devour my books like one pigging out at a buffet. I did that the first time I read this collection, it doesn't work. I had to slow down my reading to gain a feel for the stories (which seems odd since they are so short). One of the methods they used to help establish mood in these stories was to use unusual fonts. I'm still trying to figure out if the fonts were more of a help or a hindrance for me as a reader. In a couple of the stories, they change in fonts made it difficult to know which line to read next. I admit the length of the stories caused me to fear that they would end up being poetry, they didn't. They were; however, some of the tiniest pieces of micro-fiction I've ever seen.

The collection was a very interesting experience. Some of the stories really managed to create a mood in those few sort words. I enjoyed the book, but I think I will always prefer longer stories.

Happy reading!