Fungal meningitis: How a wimpy, ubiquitous black mold turned to the dark side
This outbreak of fungal meningitis, an otherwise rare event, is a sobering reminder that even a fairly routine procedure like an epidural injection can be a risky proposition if routine measures are not taken during the manufacture of the injection itself.
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We are all daily dazzled, entertained, and mmmmm’d by the sense of taste, and scrumptious foods share magazine-cover duties with supermodels and celebrities. But if we pay so much attention to tasting, how come we know so little about the mechanisms of taste? What exactly is taste? Fork in hand, I set off to find out.
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How do you like your coffee? Black, with sugar and cream—or right up the old hinder? That’s right: a coffee enema. A cup ’a Joe flush is perhaps the most extreme form of a procedure that goes by such names as “colonic purging,” “colonic irrigation,” “detoxification therapy,” and “hydrotherapy.” Here’s the low-down on the high-colonic.
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Pain Isn’t All In Your Head—But Some of It Is
Kevin Kling, one of Minnesota’s finest playwrights, performers, and storytellers, talks with me about the Marines, chronic pain, and laughter. For all the mystery surrounding how we hurt, one thing is clear: pain is personal.
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The Great Alexander
If you believe in evolution, two of the greatest advances in human history have been upright posture and opposable thumbs. Standing upright left our hands free to do other things, while opposable thumbs have made possible the culminating human achievement: text-messaging your pizza-delivery order. But the upright posture has made low back pain a very common problem. Could a decades-old technique used by musicians and actors teach us how to walk and sit and stand again, and keep us from the surgeons knife?
Examining the Alternative
A conversation with Margie Belock, the owner of a small town Wisconsin café who sells the natural, nutritional therapies that helped her recover from her own medical problems. Margie runs a break-even operation, and you can’t say that about any other area of health care. Pharmaceutical companies are not the great Satan; the drugs they have created have saved and improved lives. But they are profit-driven, and whatever they say about patients coming first is just marketing drivel. And as Margie is quick to point out, the alternative-medicine market has its share of charlatan infomercial profiteers selling cancer fixes and miracle cures. Both sides have made wildly false claims and profited by them. Conventional medicine just happens to have a fancier stage show.
The Earitable Child
Nestled behind the eardrum is a small space called “the middle ear,” known to parents of small children as a Den of Iniquity, the infamous birthplace of “Oh no, another ear infection.” Here’s what you need to know about middle ear infections, and why you needn’t grovel at your pediatrician’s feet, begging for antibiotics. Where is your pride?
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There have been many avian flu viruses in the past, but the latest strain--Influenza A subtype H5N1”—first surfaced in 1997 and wears the “The Bird Flu” sash. Here’s a look at what a virus must to do to jump species and perform the ultimate sadistic party-favor: killing your host.
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Why Do You Think They Call it Dope?
I may not be the brightest bulb on the tulip farm, but I have never understood why people buy brand-name over-the-counter medications instead of generics. If consumers just want to give their money away, how about the state lottery? Or a pyramid scheme?
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Gardasil is a recently developed vaccine against certain strains of Human papilloma virus— the purveyor of genital warts, and the major cause of cervical cancer. Here’s the story of how catching a virus can give you cancer. Yikes. Who said cancer isn’t contagious?
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From poison, to celebrity potion, to elixir of the aging masses, botox’s star is on the rise, and your wrinkles are falling fast. Now if you could only smile. Warning: do not read this if you are an admirer of Swiss-Webster mice.
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Powassan Virus: There's a New Tick-Borne Illness in Town -- Audio broadcast on The Daily Circuit, July 6, 2012
New blood thinner Pradaxa, and the blood curdling tunes of Portsmouth Sinfonia: Audio broadcast on The Daily Circuit, May 2, 2012
Are routine screenings necessary?: with guests Dr Steven Nissen, Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine, and Dr Me Myself: Midmorning with Kerri Miller, August 31, 2011
In nuclear power, a better way? Here's why. (6/8/2013)
Signs of the Times, From the People's Climate March in NYC
If people could sleep on a sidewalk for three days to be the one of the first to purchase an iPhone 6, a cross-country bus ride to keep Mother Earth out of the ICU seemed like a small sacrifice
Get Up Offa That Thing!
Advice from the King of Soul and apparent exercise physiologist, Dr. James Brown
The Swedish Prostate Cancer Team: Which Cancers Need Surgery and When
Which cancerous prostates need to go, and when
Annex the Baja: The Cabo San Lucas Winter Olympics
If God wanted Texans to ski, He'd have given them mountains.
Terror on the High Seas
The scalawag norovirus.
Oxygen Nation: Tree huggers, one and all
Why is it important that each of us confess to our inner tree hugger?
Is Your Solar Sex Panel Flame-Broiling Your Heart?
When a new study about balding comes out, I can't be objective. I've got some skin in this game.
Busted Gut? Maybe Trust Your Gut
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it's not all in your head. But as with all humans, your head and your gut are intimately connected.
Rand Paul's Bladder: Patriotism and the Micturition Reflex
Paul himself blamed his bladder for his failure to break the standing 28-hour filibuster record.
Phone Call for Parkinsons: Bright Idea for a Bad Disease
No one knows for certain, but with contributions from the likes of Max Little, we press on. Like ballet, progress is a delicate dance.
Flu Vaccine: The Best You Can Do is Not The Best We Can Do
This year's precocious and somewhat ferocious flu season shows that our current vaccination approach is more feeble than we'd like to admit.
The Science of Regret: Looking Back and Letting Go
As a middle-aged parent, my primary coping mechanism for dealing with things out of my control is to blame the kids, or Flanders. If I'm going to be an emotionally-healthy senior, I know I'll have to let go of that.
With so much climatic uncertainty and so much at stake here at home, we can't afford to get lost in space.
9/11 Diary: Notes from a Hospital in Fly-Over Land
The Day Like No Other began as a day like any other. But when it quickly became something else, I started taking notes.
America’s Health Care Addiction
The health care debate drones on and on and on like a Yanni anthology, but are we addressing the real problems, or just dancing around them?
Although the symptoms of our health care crisis are primarily financial (people can't afford it), what we really have is a product problem, not a finance problem. America is addicted to health care that's high on techno-glitz and cost, but average on outcomes; we are, after all, a country that's outlawed Lawn Jarts but not cigarettes. Breaking that addiction will cure our pocketbook problems, not vice versa.
Mammography Debate Shows Even Physicians Can Get Emotional About Science
New mammography screening guidelines from United States Preventive Services Task Force created a minor uproar in the breast health community.
As a physician I'd like to believe that doctors can remain above the fray, and that we would use our education and experience to help the public digest complex and contentious health care issues. But sometimes we obfuscate rather than clarify. Sometime we are the fray.
"Doctor's office blood pressure readings often let us down."
The Drawn-Out Indignities of The American Way of Death
Doing something often feels better than doing nothing. Inaction feeds the sense of guilt-ridden ineptness family members already feel as they ask themselves, “Why can’t I do more for this person I love so much?”
Trash Talkin' Earth Day
Although constructing a kite out of 100% recycled paper, or taking a spin on the “Soy Saucers,” or attending a gardening seminar might be good for the soul or even useful, it ain’t gonna cut it.
Climate change event celebrates 'traditional' Minnesota winter — before it’s too late
This is Minnesota - snow defines us
Does Improved Nurse Staffing in Hospitals Improve Care and Lower Costs?
On June 10th, twelve thousand hospital-based nurses here in the Twin Cities will go on strike. That is unless the Minnesota Nurses Association and the various hospital systems involved can find some common ground before then. There's a lot that the two parties disagree on, but nurse staffing levels make both of their priority lists. It's a contentious but critical issue in determining what kind of care patients receive and how much that care costs (ie. value). Financially speaking, health care American-style is killing us, and if we're ever going to loosen the noose, these are the kind of value issues that we'll need to address.
Minnesota's Billionaire Ponzi Schemer Says Pituitary Tumor Warrants Leniency on Sentencing
Minnesota's answer to Bernie Madoff is Tom Petters, a Twin Cities entreprenuer who cooked up a relatively modest 3.6 billion dollar Ponzi scheme before it all came crashing down. Awaiting sentencing in federal court, Petters' defense attorneys asked for leniency because their client has a pituitary tumor. What does that mean, and is the request more fraud than fact?
Thoughts on Leaving Haiti
After spending the last two weeks working in a field hospital in Port-au-Prince, internist and pediatrician Dr. Peter Melchert is heading home. He's finding it hard to stay, and hard to leave. Link to article
Coming Out of the Darkness
The number of new cases--earthquake victims who have never received treatment--is falling off, but there remains plenty of work in Port au Prince for medical volunteers like Dr. Peter Melchert.
Tuesday, Bloody Tuesday: A Minnesota Physician on the Ground in Haiti
My friend and colleague, Dr. Peter Melchert, arrived in Haiti sixteen days after what Haitians are simply calling "Tuesday." Every morning a flat-bed named despair rolls out into the tent cities of Port au Prince, looking for the injured. The truck returns to the field hospital where Dr. Melchert is volunteering, and here's what he's seeing.
New HIV Cases on the Rise in Metrowobegon: Connecting Crystal-meth and Public Perception to Minnesota’s Rising HIV Cases
The Minnesota Department of Health released data on the number of new HIV cases in 2009. Unfortunately, with 13% more infections, it was a good year for HIV. Here's a look at how crystal meth, misinformation, cohort progression, and HIV's friendlier public persona may be fueling the surge.
Surfin' USA: Will H1 N1 Ride a Third Wave?
A year ago, no one knew anything about this version of the H1 N1 influenza virus--the Novel H1 N1, purveyor of a global pandemic. Less than 12 months later, we're a little bit sick of hearing about it, but almost certainly the H1 N1 virus isn't done with us yet. Here's an interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm</a>, an international expert on things infectious, and head of the University of Minnesota's CIDRAP, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
Meeting the Fury of H1 N1 Face to Face
Depending on one's experience, the H1N1 pandemic might have felt like the war in Afghanistan — a distant battle played out on television. To some, it was just more media fear-mongering. Standing at the bedside of a patient critically ill with the H1N1 virus can change all that. Here's the story of one such patient.
When the H1N1 Vaccine Finally Arrives in Force, Some Will Say "No Thank You"
As H1 N1 continues its inaugural sweep around the globe, the vaccine designed to stop it is still waiting somewhere in the wings. No one knows for certain when it will arrive in quantities sufficient to vaccinate the general public, but when it does, polls show that 30-40% of Americans will pass. Here's a look at why.
Piggerys in Choowoonga, Iowa Corn, and Cellular Immunity: What we know and still don't know about the hard charging H1 N1 virus
Dr. Michael Osterholm is the director of CIDRAP, the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and an international expert in emerging infections like the novel H1 N1. Read an interview with him where we discuss the current pandemic, and what we still don't understand about influenza viruses.
Nobel Conference 2009: H2O, Uncertain Resource
Each year, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter Minnesota holds its Nobel Conference, a two day meeting that typically focuses on a major scientific issue. Part Superbowl for Nerds, part Hoedown for Those Who Care, the Nobel Conference consistently lands the foremost scientists--Nobel Laureates etc.--in the area being studied.
This year the subject was "H2O: Uncertain Resource." Here's two pieces of mine that summarize what the speakers had to say.
Day One: Water as the Vector of Climate Change; Midwestern Corn Yields and Gulf Coast Shrimp; Drinking out of the Toilet
Day Two: Do We Have a Water Crisis or a Water Management Crisis?; The Jolly Green God and Ecotheology; There's a Hole in your Bucket--Wasted Food, Wasted Water.
H1 N1 Continues to Bully School-Aged Kids, but Kindly Offers Senior Discount
As the first shipment of H1N1 vaccine is announced, the novel flu virus continues to gallop across Minnesota in precocious mid-season form, causing widespread activity, but kindly offering a senior discount. Here's the latest "No Flu For You" Update.
Give Us a "V"; Give Us an "A"...Give Us an H1 N1 Vaccine
Short of retiring to a hermitage outside of Ear Hole, North Dakota, the best way to avoid getting a case of the H1 N1 Swine flu blues is by getting vaccinated. Click here to find out where we're at in the production and distribution of the H1 N1 vaccine, and when it might be appearing in needles near you.
Which Will Arrive First: Peak H1 N1 Activity, or the Vaccine?
On Monday, September 14th, the Minnesota Department of Health held a summit on the H1 N1 Pandemic. Minus the free bagels, banana bread, and the beverage of your choice--as long as it's coffee-
You Can't Catch the Swine Flu from Eating a Pork Chop Any More than You Can Get Lyme Disease from Eating Key Lime Pie
While those of us in the northern hemisphere have been wiling away the summer, the H1 N1 Novel Influenza Virus (formerly known as "the Swine Flu", formerly known as "Prince") has been busy circumscribing the globe and becoming the dominant influenza strain worldwide. Here's everything you need to know about H1 N1 virus. Paranoia sold separately.
Swine flu update: what constitutes a suspect case, and is summer on our side?
The World Health Organization has increased the Pandemic Alert level to Phase 5, confirming what anyone with web access already knows: there are now confirmed cases of human-to-human transmission of the swine influenza H1 N1 virus in multiple separate geographical regions. Here's a look at what the CDC considers to be a "suspect case," worthy of testing, and whether summer is on our side.
Flu Outbreak Has Health Officials Crying Pork, Not Fowl
A flu outbreak that appears to be centered in Mexico has U.S. and international health officials crying not fowl, but pork. The virus appears to be a newly minted version of the swine flu. In the past, human cases of swine flu have generally required direct contact with pigs, and since pigs don't fly--yet--human infections with swine flu have been rare. But this strain appears capable of being transmitted from human to human, creating a public health emergency and as much fact as speculation. Here's what we know and don't know.
Would You Like Some Deep Fried Chicken Strips With Your Angiogram?
I’m proud of where I work, but the irony of having a McDonalds restaurant and a state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization lab under the same roof has always been difficult to reconcile. The vending machines full of different conglomerations of trans fats, simple carbs, and high fructose corn syrup might be an even unhealthier option. Fortunately, this conflicted food environment is beginning to change. Last month my employer, Allina Hospitals and Clinics, announced a system-wide healthy food initiative that will usher in some major changes in the food choices available to Allina employees and visitors. We in the medical profession have been counseling people to eat right for years, and finally, it looks like we mean it. Click here to read about the challenges of changing a health care system's food culture.
Using PSA to Screen for Prostate Cancer: A Gland Adventure
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in males, but it's not the most lethal. It develops early in life (more than 20% of males in their thirties have small clusters of cancer in their prostate gland) but grows very slowly. So slowly that most men will never be aware of it, and they'll die of some other disease or illness. For these men, treating their cancer with surgery or radiation offers no benefits, only risks.
A small percentage of men, however, will develop a more aggressive form of prostate cancer that can spread throughout the body with lethal results. The ideal prostate cancer screening test would be able to differentiate the relatively benign, slow growing form of prostate cancer from this more aggressive lethal type. At this point, screening with PSA--prostate specific antigen--can't really do that.
Two studies in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) add important information to the debate, but the waters remain murky. An editorial in the NEJM recommends that men discuss the issue with their personal physician, but only AFTER they've read Dr. Craig Bowron's piece in MinnPost.
Risk Factors vs. Risks: Predicting Who Will Develop Cardiovascular Disease
About half of those who suffer a heart attack have no risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but they have plenty of risks. Say what? Risk factors are a binary system--you either have high blood pressure or you don't. Whereas in real life, for example, the risks of hypertension are continuous and graded, and they start at a much lower number than what we currently call "normal." If we really want to put a dent into cardiovascular disease, we need a better way of defining who is at risk, and a more affordable way of treating them. Pick up your Grimm Meter, knock back a Polypill, and delve into this.
Smoking In Bed: Cigarettes Infiltrate Obama's Secret Service Blanket
President Obama won't admit that he's quit smoking, which is to say he's still smoking. But so what if he's sneaking a few puffs in the lavatory of Air Force One. What could that hurt?
It could hurt alot. You might be surprised to learn that some of the heart attack-provoking effects of tobacco smoking are immediate and come at very low doses; which means the highest threat to the President's personal security just might be dangling off his lips.
How Two Minnesota Epidemiologists Help Topple King Nut Peanut Butter from His Tainted Throne
No doubt you've heard about the salmonella-tainted peanut butter that was being produced by a plant in Georgia and shipped far and wide. Two epidemiologists at the Minnesota Department of Health played a pivotal role in cracking the case. Here's their story.
COPD, Slapstick Presidential Disease Endorsements, and What's Really Killing Us In America
Several years ago, the now departed President Bush sent a letter to me and other physicians across the country extolling the horrors of COPD, better known as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In it he noted that his Administration was dedicated to "supporting research to better understand the causes of COPD, and to improve prevention and treatment." Here's a short primer on COPD, slapstick Presidential disease endorsements, and what's really killing us in America. The problem is, he never once mentioned smoking, which is far and away the number one cause of COPD. Oops. I hope President Obama does better. Here's a short primer on COPD, slapstick Presidential disease endorsements, and what's really killing us in America.
Tainted Pet Food, Weight-loss Supplements, and Infant Formula -- Welcome to the New World Order
In December of 2008 the FDA announced a recall of 30 weight loss products, all of them thought to have been manufactured in China. This is the same country that brought us the 2008 Summer Olympics, but also melamine-contaminated pet food and infant formula (ok, so it's hard to do everything really well). Here's a piece that will show you what products to steer clear of, and how unregulated dietary supplements really are. If raising your eyebrows can burn off calories, you'll be sure to shed a few pounds.
Take The Flu Quiz. It's Good For You!
Test your influenza knowledge with this mind-bending quiz. A perfect score makes you eligible to win our "Say Ahhh!!! Influenza Gift Package," which includes a box Thera-Flu, a case of Mad Dog 20/20, and a government-authorized digital converter box. But you can't win if you don't play.
Vitamin D Reaches for Superstar Status; but New Vit D Recommendations For Children Might Not Be Enough
If you're thinking Vitamin D is found only in milk-mustaches, and that it's an important part of bone health, you and Paul Harvey need to hear the rest of the story. It turns out that Vitamin D has its fingers in nearly every aspect of the human physiological pie, and that low levels are consistently associated with all kinds of ilk and illness. Here's a piece that will help you begin to probe what may one day become known as "Vitamin S", as in Superman.
Daily Cialis: Medical Breakthrough or Marketing Ploy?
What do claw foot bathtubs have to do with erectile dysfunction? I'm not sure.<div>But if you're wondering if daily Cialis is the right thing for you or the man in your life, here's a piece that will set things str-- that will make it all clear to you. Click here to read it any time the moment is right. Any time you feel that way, like reading it.
"What board certification really means for your physician"
"Pass the Gin-Soaked-Roaisins, Please."
Omnipresent TV ads for pecker-power drugs like Viagra and Cialis implore viewers to "Ask your doctor if you're healthy enough to have sex?" What are the cardiovascular demands of this ancient ritual, and what are the chances that a little sexercise could end up giving you a heart attack? Here's your answer...
Is it time for T? An ad campaign encourages men to get tested for low testosterone
When Hospitals Refuse to Let People Die