Genetically Modified Mosquitoes: The End of Malaria?

30 08 2010

Every year on this planet, malaria kills roughly one million people, many of them children. Scientists are trying to change that number.

Given that malaria is transmitted by the mosquito, which only lives about a month, shortening the mosquito lifespan could reduce the number of infections.  At least in theory.

Dr. Michael Riehle and his staff at the University of Arizona have been busy engineering a GM (genetically modified) mosquito. They’ve shortened the lifespan of the mosquito without modifying its essential functions, and this could change the lives of people who live with the threat of malaria on a daily basis.

The bugaboo is that genetically modifying insects, plants, and animals can result in unintended consequences.  There are scenarios that can’t be tested in a laboratory environment, or anticipated in the wild.    For instance, what if the GM mosquito, unable to transmit malaria due to a shortened life span, is the perfect vector for transmission of some other disease?

In the U.S., numerous exotic species have been introduced accidently—and intentionally. Many have become invasive species.  The kudzu vine, the Japanese beetle, the snakehead fish, pythons, and the elm bark beetle are a few in a long list of  species that have endangered indigenous plants, fish and animals because they have no natural predators in their new habitat.

Today we have GMOs (genetically modified organisms), including bacteria, plants and animals, that have been highly successful in the lab advancing medical research.

GM plants have been used in the fields and the foods we eat since the early 1990s.   Staple crops like corn, soy beans, and tomatoes are some GM crops.  Have there been ramifications?  Are there health implications?  Can we even identify the products that are genetically modified?

Just recently, GM canola plants, which are pesticide-resistant, have been found cross-pollinating in the wild with weeds.  The repercussions are not yet known.  Meanwhile, genetically engineered sugar beets, responsible for 50 percent of our sugar, have been tabled due to a federal court ruling.

Various GM lab animals and GM crops and livestock are on the docket for FDA review.  There is the potential for benefit, but there is also concern.

Currently there is nothing stopping someone from introducing these GM mosquitos, which could be the answer to many prayers, or a possible “frankenfish.”

There are proponents and opponents in the GM debate.  On which side do you land?

YouTube for Health Educators

26 08 2010

YouTube isn’t just for Justin Bieber fans or people interested in 20th century dance moves.  It’s also perfect for health educators.

YouTube provides health educators with an endless supply of videos on health topics ranging from pertussis to the importance of adequate vaccination, as well as breaking health news and updates from government agencies.

Did you know CDC is on YouTube, as is WHO, and other estimable groups such as UNICEF and Save the Children?

A number of health departments use YouTube for health education campaigns addressing food inspection, oral health, swine flu, and everything in between.

If you are a health educator and are interested in learning more about YouTube, including how to set up an account and upload a video, sign up for next Wednesday’s webinar using these steps:

  1. Sign up for PKIDs Communications Made Easy Program (It’s free!)
  2. Register for our YouTube for Health Educators webinar (held Wednesday, September 1st at 9:00 am pacific time)
  3. Call in on the day of the webinar, using the number from your registration email
  4. Get online using the URL link in your registration email

RV144: HIV Vaccine Game Changer?

23 08 2010

“Given the significant threat of HIV infection worldwide, an effective vaccine is urgently needed as part of a broader prevention effort to help control the epidemic.” – U.S. Military HIV Research Program

Until recently, hopes of an effective vaccine against HIV remained dim even though a vaccine could potentially impact millions of lives worldwide.

Everyone, from the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to the man on the street, has dreamed of and/or worked toward the creation of a vaccine that prevents HIV infections.  Even with this huge, global effort, HIV vaccine research languished until a Thai HIV vaccine clinical trial found a modicum of success in 2009.

This U.S. Army and Thailand Ministry of Public Health-sponsored trial, known as RV144, was conducted in Thailand with 16,000 volunteers. The vaccine successfully reduced the HIV infection rate by 31.2%, a relatively modest but still significant scientific achievement. These results were heralded as a renaissance in HIV vaccine development.

The RV144 trial tested the ‘prime boost’ combination of two vaccines derived from two strains of HIV common in Thailand. While the vaccine had no impact on people once they were infected with HIV, it did decrease the number of new infections among recipients compared to those given a placebo.

Scientists don’t yet know why this regimen worked, but it is promising for several reasons:

  • Both of the vaccine components used in the trial had previously failed when used individually. It was only when used in combination that positive outcomes resulted.
  • Even with the modest success, a recent study showed that a semi-effective HIV vaccine given to part of the population could reduce new HIV infections by 1/3rd within 15 years.
  • The study provides scientists with valuable information about how to conduct a large-scale HIV prevention trial.

The future of HIV vaccine research is looking much brighter than it did before results from RV144 were first reported in September 2009, yet further progress is not a foregone conclusion. The global financial crisis has reduced investment in HIV vaccine research and development by 10 percent. And capitalizing on the results of RV144 willrequire a sustained scientific commitment that some countries may no longer be able to afford.

Not Sharing? Good!

20 08 2010

It’s Personal (Part Three)

How not to share


  • When girls hang out together at somebody’s house, makeup usually gets passed around.  This is hard to avoid, but if one of your friends wants you to try some makeup on, try saying, “Can’t do it.  Most of that stuff makes me break out.” Girls can usually relate to that and won’t push it.  If she keeps at it, just say no using the same reason.
  • Change the focus of the conversation. Tell her how that eyeshadow makes her eyes look so pretty, or that lip gloss looks good on her, or whatever.
  • Avoid having to share your makeup by not bringing any.
  • Use the “blame your mom” approach.
  • If all else fails, just put some on the back of your hand (unless you have cracked/dry/wounded skin) to try the color on your skin, then wash it off with soap and water.

Earrings and other piercing jewelry:

  • Sharing these items is a very bad idea. There is a high likelihood that these have come into contact with blood or body fluids, which can carry serious diseases that you could be stuck with for the rest of your life, so never borrow someone’s piercing jewelry.
  • If someone insists on borrowing yours, say you can’t and blame your mom. If you just can’t say no, at least clean it with disinfectant before wearing it again.

Sharing food or drinks:

  • If your friend offers you a bite of her cheesecake, hamburger, etc, use a clean fork or other utensil to cut off a bite from an uneaten portion. Or, better yet, say, “That looks so good, but I just can’t eat any more!” or something similar. If someone comes after your food with their dirty utensil, and you don’t want to stop them, just leave the part they ate off of on your plate.
  • If someone offers you a drink from their cup/can/bottle, say, “That looks good, I’m going to get one too, be right back!” or “No thanks, I don’t like ____.” If someone wants some of your drink, you can say, “I think I might be getting a cold or something—let me get one for you.”  If they insist and you don’t want to refuse them further, or they look really thirsty, let them have the rest of your drink and get a new one for yourself. They’ve been warned. 😉
  • Make it cool to keep drinks personal! Attach bling to drinking glasses. You can make your own from old jewelry and earring loops purchased from the craft store. Make each item unique in some way. For glasses without stems, get a sheet of plain/blank static cling vinyl. Design your own reusable stickers and cut them out.

Things to remember

  • Lots of people who are infected with serious diseases like HIV don’t know they have a disease.
  • People can pick up and pass on less serious infectious germs before they even feel sick.
  • You can end up with a cold, a skin infection, diarrhea or any number of nasty things if you share personal stuff.
  • Our fingers and hands can be “vehicles” for germs to hitch a ride from one place to the next. So by not sharing, you’re helping protect yourself and others from these germs.
  • Friends will respect your viewpoint if they feel you care about them and aren’t “judging” them.
  • Anyone who makes fun of you for practicing healthy habits isn’t someone worth your time.

There we are.  Now, go forth and be (semi) germ free!

Curious about Part One?

How about Part Two?

Saying No to the BFF

18 08 2010

It’s Personal (Part Two)

Oh, what to do?

What do you do when someone says, “Can I borrow/have/use your…?” Everybody wants to try some of their friend’s triple chocolate cheesecake, or that sparkle eye shadow sample at the makeup counter, or some lip balm for totally chapped lips.

Whatever the case, we offer these strategies for avoiding the Big Share:

Best overall tip—blame your mom or dad. If somebody wants to borrow makeup, eat half your pie, wear your earrings, or whatever, blame your mom. Most moms we know are happy to let their daughters “blame” things like this on them if it helps their girls (and others, too) stay healthy. Examples of this might be:

  • “My mom is a germ freak.  She’d probably ground me if I did__________,”
  • “My mom is a germ freak and she turned me into one!  I can’t even let my sister/cousin/mom borrow/eat/wear whatever.  Gives me the creeps.”
  • “Oh did you see that thing on TV about people getting weird germs from sharing makeup?? It’s freaky!”

Lip gloss/balm:

  • Keep two with you at all times—one just for you and one to let others use if they insist on borrowing.  It’s hard to say no to friends without looking like a nerd, but maybe when you hand over the spare, you can say, “You know how many germs are in spit?  I never borrow this stuff,” or, “You can use this if you want, but a lot of other people have used it, too.”  They may still borrow it, but they’ll remember what you said and might do less borrowing.
  • To reduce the need for lip balm, drink plenty of water.  That will help keep your lips and skin from drying out.

Nail clippers, files and other manicure items:

  • Avoid loaning out your nail clippers and files by not carrying them with you.  Keep them at home.  But, if you have to carry some and your friends know you have them and want to borrow them, loan them your clippers or files and remember to clean them off later with disinfectant.  This won’t work on files that aren’t metal—might as well throw them away.
  • Got a hangnail and no clippers? Put a bandaid on it or just live with it until you can clip it off later.  Better than using someone else’s stuff.  A lot of people are walking around with bloodborne infections and they don’t know it, so they’re not going to stop you from using their personal items that might have microscopic specks of blood or body fluid on them.
  • If you have a habit of picking at your nails or the skin around them, try to stop. When the skin around your nails is broken or bleeding, germs can get into your body or spread to others.
  • Clip hangnails at home.
  • Keep your hands busy doing something else.
  • Moisturize frequently and stay hydrated (dry skin tends to peel up more).
  • Use a product that reduces excess cuticle.

Join us on Friday for Part Three, when we wrap up this little germfest.

Curious about Part One?

Share Your Lip Gloss? No!

16 08 2010

It’s Personal (Part One)

It’s hard to say no when a BFF wants you to try her eyeliner or wants to borrow your lip gloss or share your drink.  We think we’ll look like freaks or germaphobes to our friends if we don’t borrow and share. The thing is, we can’t always tell just by looking at someone if they’re infected with…whatever.  We don’t have to be oozing pus to be infected with something.  It’s easy to think that if somebody looks healthy, they must be healthy.

How do personal items transmit germs?

If you want to avoid a cold or something much more serious, one good way is to keep personal items personal and stay away from other people’s germy hands, blood or body fluids (including saliva and so on).

Germs hitch rides on and in all sorts of substances on and in our bodies, from fingertips to spit to blood. Let’s say friend Suzie has a cold. Being polite, she covers her cough with her hand, then a few minutes later, uses a finger to scoop up some of your lip gloss. She just put her cold germs into your pot of lip gloss. Next time you use it, chances are you’ll be putting her cold germs on your mouth.

Now let’s say that Suzie has a serious germ in her blood. She uses your fingernail file and gets a teeny speck of blood on the file from a little cut around her nail. You use the file after her and scrape your skin a little too hard, allowing the germs in her speck of blood to make their way through your broken skin and into your bloodstream. You now have Suzie’s serious disease.

Toothbrushes, cups/drinks, straws, silverware, lipstick/balm/gloss

Lips, mouths and throats are home to all sorts of germs, some that are harmless, some just annoying and some very serious. Lips may seem safe, but they can have germy spit on them, and they can crack and bleed. In addition, oral herpes can be found around the lip area. Germs can get onto anything that goes into or on someone’s mouth and be transferred to your mouth.

Manicure tools and nail polish

The areas around the finger- and toenails are famous for having all sorts of little breaks in the skin, including ones so small you can’t even see them. Blood or other body fluids containing germs can get onto nail clippers, nail scissors, files and other manicure tools, and then be transmitted to you through little breaks in your skin.


Eye makeup can be the worst offender in this group. Eyes can have a variety of germs in and around them. People have become infected with diseases like pink eye from sharing makeup. Staphylococcus aureus, a germ that can cause nasty skin infections and much worse, has also been found in eye makeup. Protect yourself from yourself—wash your hands before applying makeup to stop the germs on your hands from getting into your makeup and on your eyes, in your mouth, or on your face. If you share mascara, eyeliner, etc, those germs can be transmitted from one person to another. Also, if you try on any kind of makeup that other people have stuck their fingers in, you can become infected with the germs that moved from their fingers to the makeup. Yikes!

Stay tuned for Part Two on Wednesday, when we talk about how to deal with borrowers.

Health Information: Social Media’s New Darling?

13 08 2010

When it comes to health information, more and more people are turning to the Internet, and not just to research symptoms.

Increasingly, people are turning to social media for everything from weight management to smoking cessation to exercise tutorials. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of tools like Twitter, Facebook, and mobile applications for the radical behavior modification required to stop smoking, drinking, or eating too much, but the health information landscape has been irrevocably altered by the influence of social media, and vice versa.

When it comes to weightier matters such as fighting infectious disease or increasing communication between doctors and patients, the social media scene is less chock-a-block with information, but most of the heavy hitters, like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization are represented.

For patients with infectious diseases or other serious conditions, there are many virtual gathering places where peer-to-peer information and experiences are shared. Sites like PatientsLikeMe allow users to self-select using “disease communities,” from Fibromyalgia to HIV/AIDS. PKIDs has a listserv for families whose children have been affected by infectious diseases.

And while it’s far too early to tell whether social media will increase doctor-patient communication, some practitioners have embraced social media tools whole-heartedly –using everything from blogs to Twitter.  A New York practice handles nearly all post-consultation communications virtually (ranging from email to Twitter).

From virtual visits to health research to virtual communities for the chronically ill, the Internet is no longer just a way to check out your symptoms. And social media, with its two-way information sharing, has shifted knowledge-sharing hierarchies the healthcare world used to take for granted.

The Mayo Clinic, the seminal leader in the treatment of disease, recently formed a Center for Social Media.

Could a social media center in your hospital or clinic be far behind?

Mandatory HCW Vaccination. Good idea?

11 08 2010

During 2003-2004, 54% of Virginia Mason Medical Center employees were vaccinated against flu. Six years later, that rate more than doubled (to 98.9%) due to the first mandatory healthcare worker vaccination program in the U.S.

Despite increasing healthcare worker flu vaccination rates, these programs remain controversial. The unionized nurses at Virginia Mason successfully filed a complaint against the hospital, claiming the mandatory program should have been included in the bargaining agreement.

Last October, New York State Judge Thomas MacNamara issued a restraining order which halted implementation of a mandatory vaccination program for healthcare workers in the state. 

To many people, healthcare workers resisting flu vaccination makes as much sense as doctors refusing to wash hands between patients. “Low healthcare worker influenza vaccination rates can no longer be tolerated, because our patients and our coworkers are at risk,” declare Dr. Thomas Talbot and Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, describing the need for mandatory vaccination programs.

And Arthur Caplan opines, “If you can get close to 100 percent vaccination rates you can cut patient death rates from flu by 40 percent.”

For those against mandatory vaccination programs for healthcare workers, the primary concerns are worker rights and civil rights. To those in support of these programs, saving patient lives is paramount.

If Virginia Mason’s program is any indication, there is little question that mandatory healthcare worker vaccination programs can be successful if implemented correctly.  What is in question is whether these programs will remain hamstrung by legal challenges indefinitely.

Back to School?!

9 08 2010

The kids are staggering around, moaning about school’s approach while we parents giggle in our sleep.  We have to put in some work to get our little sweetums of all ages launched into the new school year, but the payoff is worth it.  The kids – out of the house!

Vaccines.  Have to get pre-schoolers, collegians and everyone in-between up-to-date on those immunizations.  Ice cream afterward, no matter the age.

Flu.  Ok, this seems like it should be with the vaccines above, but most of us focus on the immunizations we need to get done before the kids go back to school, and this one usually isn’t available in clinics until September/October.  Put it on the calendar, because it’s easy to forget.  Check with your provider about each member of your family getting vaccinated against influenza.  It’s important.

Cover coughs.  With kids crammed into classrooms and adults back at the office after summer holiday, diseases have a chance to spread quickly.  Show the kids how to cough (or sneeze) into their elbows, or into tissues.  This helps stop the germs from floating around and being inhaled by others, or from landing on surfaces that others then touch, picking up the germs on their hands.

Wash hands.  Washing our hands throughout the day, and always after using the bathroom and before we eat, is an all-around good habit.  It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent infections.  Show the kids how to wash their hands.  We didn’t know there was a particular way that worked best until we had a nurse come in and show us prior to making this little video a few years ago.

Dating.  There will be a lot more interaction between teens after school starts.  Even though they know about STDs, it doesn’t hurt for them to hear us talk about the ways diseases spread.  It’s surprising how parents’ willingness to talk, and talk often, can impact a teen’s choices.  Also, thanks to the recent vampire craze, we have to explain that biting your date’s neck can spread all sorts of diseases.

Any parents out there want to chime in on what they do or say to keep their kids healthy?  We’d love to hear!

5 Quick Tips for Nonprofit Success on Twitter

6 08 2010

Twitter, the micro-blogging social media tool of choice for over 105 million people worldwide, can seem at first blush to be a funny tool.  Users write messages in 140 characters or less, and share links and news updates with those that follow them.

Brevity has necessitated its own language on Twitter (abbreviations anyone?) and to the uninitiated it can be quite difficult to understand.

However, for those willing to press on, Twitter can be an invaluable tool to reach a wider audience, share news updates and events, and quickly create “buzz” about an issue, product, or concern.

This holds especially true for nonprofits, who can use Twitter’s virtual megaphone to communicate their health- or other mission-related messages.  However, like all tools, it’s only effective if the operator has some tricks up her sleeve.

These five quick tips for nonprofit success will help put any group on the map with Twitter:

  1. Hold a Twitter Town Hall – A Twitter Town Hall is a virtual event that allows people, during a set period of time, to talk about the same topic with other people and organizations on Twitter. To launch National HIV Testing Day CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, held a Twitter Town Hall. The Town Hall is an excellent way to build a nonprofit’s mission and vision, and an excellent promotional tool for an event or annual celebration.
  2. Involve a Key Leader – We can’t all get Ashton Kutcher or Demi Moore to tweet on our behalf, but most nonprofits have key leaders within their organization or on their board who have a knack for pithy (Twitter-friendly), mission-focused comments or questions.  Offering access to a director or board leader grants twitter users an opportunity to engage effectively with a new audience.
  3. Start an intelligent conversation (by asking good questions)  – Twitter users, like most people, get excited by the prospect of giving their opinions. Nonprofits often have time-sensitive or newsy questions that can spur debate and inspire great discussions. For example “Will you get tested on National HIV Testing Day? Why or why not?”
  4. Utilize favorites to organize your tweets and give users a quick way to see what your organization is about. Favoriting is a way of showcasing the tweets that you find most interesting or helpful. You can favorite your own or another’s tweet by selecting the star at the end of a particular update. These favorites will show in the right-hand column of your Twitter profile page.
  5. Create a poll  – A more targeted way to prompt conversation amongst your twitter users is to post a poll relating to your work.  Polls allow an organization to ask multi-layered series of questions and gain in-depth information. Sites like twtpoll and polldaddy allow you to design and then tweet a poll. These are particularly useful for multiple choice questions. For example, “Would you prefer to receive your health information via:  a. Text, b. Mobile App, or c. Email?”

As with all social media tools, a regular presence, high quality discussion, and contributing to others streams of information will help build a loyal following.

And don’t forget to follow PKIDs on Twitter.

Join the conversation!