A few developments in health this week, all pioneered by Canadians researchers and scientists:
For the first time, more Canadian women than men are dying of cardiovascular disease. While the difference is slim – 50.5 per cent of heart attack, stroke and heart failure deaths are in women and 49.5 per cent are in men – it still represents a seismic shift, according to one of the country’s leading researchers. — for more, read the public health reporter Andre Picard’s column in the Globe and Mail today.
You might also want to take a look at our “20 things you need to know about your heart.”
“Canadian-led researchers find HIV’s ‘hiding place’ in the body”
There are hiding places — HIV reservoirs — where small numbers of virus lay low, ready to launch an attack. Until now, scientists didn’t know where these safe havens were located, but the possibilities included the brain or the kidneys. In a paper published in the journal Nature Medicine, the University of Montreal’s Rafick-Pierre Sekaly and colleagues report that HIV finds refuge in a type of long-lived immune system cell. They are now looking at ways to destroy them without crippling the immune system. One day, the work could lead to a cure, said Sekaly, one of Canada’s top AIDS researchers. — for more, read this Canadian Press article.
“Researchers work to erase women’s hormone-replacement fear”
A research team led by Ottawa scientists is creating and testing synthetic hormones to take the fear out of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women. Wright and the research team, led by Tony Durst at the University of Ottawa, have just received a $267,000 research grant from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. It could lead to the creation of a blockbuster new drug. — for more, read this article printed in the Ottawa Citizen.
“Few extra pounds may protect Canadians from early death”
Canadians who are slightly overweight live longer than people of normal weight, according to a new study that confirms similar findings from the U.S. “It may be that a few extra pounds actually protect older people as their health declines, but that doesn’t mean that people in the normal weight range should try to put on a few pounds,” Mark Kaplan, a co-author of the study and a professor of Community Health at Portland State University, said in a release Tuesday. — for more, read this CBC article.
According to the latest numbers, more than 10,000 cases of swine flu have been counted worldwide, but we’re hearing less and less about it — almost as if, suddenly, there’s nothing to be worried about. So, are you still at risk? Is swine flu going to come back? Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease expert with the University Health Network answers your questions:
Why has swine flu caused so much fear and worry?
It’s not so much swine flu itself; it doesn’t appear to be an unusual form of influenza, in terms of the way it’s acting. So far, it has caused only mild symptoms, especially here in North America. What makes it significant for researchers and health officials is that it’s a new type of influenza — the population doesn’t have any immunity to it. We don’t know how it’s going to affect people, or how it’s going to spread, so we want to keep an eye on it.
What makes swine flu different from the run-of-the-mill seasonal flu?
Clinically, the swine flu isn’t anything worse than the seasonal flu. Influenza tends to have vague symptoms that include fever, cough, runny nose, aches and chills, headache and fatigue — the same symptoms we’re seeing with swine flu, although this new strain seems to cause a bit more stomach upset. What’s different about swine flu is that it’s new — as, I said, the general population doesn’t have any immunity to it, and we don’t know how it’s going to spread.
Has the media blown the swine flu out of proportion?
There’s been a lot of coverage; maybe some sources have focused too much on the flu. But it’s a double-edged sword, because communicating the symptoms and risk factors to the public is so important. And in this case, it’s helping us track how the flu is spreading, because people who are infected are coming forward, so we can run lab tests to confirm new cases.
Are you expecting many new cases in the future?
I do think there will continue to be new cases in Canada and around the world in the weeks ahead. But we’re starting to slow down — the weather’s getting warmer in Canada, and flu bugs don’t like warm weather. It’s likely we’ll see a resurgence of swine flu in the fall, when cold-and-flu season hits. By then, we hope to have a vaccine that protects against swine flu.
How can people protect themselves now?
There are simple measures, such as washing your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing. If you’re sick, stay home. The vast majority of people recover after a few days of rest — it’s not necessary to run to the hospital if you have flu symptoms. People with other complications, such as asthma, lung disease or heart disease, should see their family doctors.
For a health issue like this, where should we go to find the best, most accurate information?
That’s a good question; it’s easy to get confused by all the information out there. I always suggest that patients go straight to official sources: Provincial ministries of health post up-to-date information on their websites and issue public health alerts; the World Health Organization is another good source.
After being out of town unexpectedly for most of last week, I’ve just been catching up on all the news about the swine flu. The number of cases in Canada — and worldwide — seems to change hourly, but latest reports count off:
- 1,025 flu infections in 20 countries
- 25 confirmed deaths in Mexico
- more than 100 cases in Canada
Not yet a pandemic — defined by the World Health Organization as “human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region, plus community-level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different WHO region” — but pretty close. (At phase 5, a pandemic is considered imminent.)
The big news over the weekend was that more than 2,000 pigs at an Alberta farm had to be quarantined after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed that a farm-worker infected the animals with the flu.
Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be speaking with Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease expert with the University Health Network, about the swine flu. If you have any questions, send them to: email@example.com
I’ll be posting the answers here on Healthwise, so be sure to check back!
For further reading:
- More than 1,000 swine flu cases worldwide: WHO, from CBC.ca
- Pork industry in panic as pigs catch the flu, from Globe and Mail
- Swine flu: FAQ, from CBC.ca
- Will the pandemic be mild, or kill millions, from Reuters
- Swine flu and travel, from Webmd.com
- Mayo Clinic expert answers your questions on swine flu, from Mayo Clinic
A health column in the New York Times recently investigated the claim that heart attack symptoms differ for men and women:
“Men are more likely to exhibit classic signs. Women often experience symptoms not typically associated with heart attacks, which can appear weeks before the actual event.”
The column reported on a study of more than 500 female heart patients. I thought it might be helpful to sum up the symptoms in a list, so they’re easy to remember. Weeks before their attacks:
- 70 percent reported severe, unexplained fatigue
- 48 percent had sleep disturbances
- Slightly fewer than half had shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety
During the attack:
- More than 50 percent had shortness of breath and weakness
- Slightly fewer than half had extreme fatigue, cold sweat and dizziness
Despite these findings, the American Heart Association notes that chest pain is still the most common warning sign in both sexes.
They say art mimics reality — or do I have that reversed? Either way, reading about a new development in brain research this morning in the New York Times, I had an odd moment of reality colliding with the surreal world of one of my favourite movies:
Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.
Researchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.
The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.
So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say this memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.
It’s almost as if the researchers set out to turn the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind into real life. In the movie, the lead character, Joel (played by Jim Carrey), undergoes a radical procedure after a break-up to erase his memories of his girlfriend, Clementine (Kate Winset). Watch the trailer: