What you need to know about measles

Dr. Lauren Raimer-Goodman

Dr. Lauren Raimer-Goodman

Recently, my colleagues and I have been hearing reports about measles outbreaks around the country. New York, California, Dallas and even Hawaii have seen cases this year.

Many epidemiologists feel it’s only a matter of time before most major metropolitan areas in the U.S. are affected. Unless we see an improvement in vaccination rates, the Houston area is at risk of having its own outbreak.

So what is measles and why are doctors across the country up in arms about some people coming down with a little virus?

In short, because it’s highly contagious, can be deadly and is completely preventable with vaccination. Measles causes fever, cough, runny nose and pink eye in the early stages. People then usually develop a rash that starts at the top of the head and spreads down the body. Measles can cause encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. This can happen during the initial infection or any time after you have been infected with the virus, even years later. Some people who get measles will die from it. According to the World Health Organization, 122,000 people died of measles in 2012 globally. That’s 14 people an hour.

Why are we even in this situation? It started in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield, a former surgeon and researcher in the UK, published a paper suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Guess what? Continue reading

Putting Your Bacteria to Work

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

A biotech startup company called uBiome has adopted the concept of crowdsourcing, using the Internet to rally people around a cause, for research on the human microbiome. The microbiome is all the microscopic flora and fauna that live in and on the human body. Humans have 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells. But science is just beginning to understand the populations of the microbiome and how they affect a person’s health for good or bad.

What science already knows about the microbiome comes from the $173 million government-funded Human Microbiome Project. This project took five years and researchers collected and sequenced the microbiome of 250 healthy people. It proved there are at least 1,000 different types of bacteria present on every person. The National Institutes of Health has made the four terabytes of data from this project available to all researchers via the Microbiome Cloud Project. Continue reading

Poisons can be found all throughout the house

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

It’s important for parents to remember that not all poisons are in the garage or basement.

A number of poisons can be found throughout the house. Small children are both curious and fast, so parents have to exercise special care not to leave dangerous products open or within their reach.

Take a tour of your house or apartment to see if some of these dangerous conditions exist.

  • In the kitchen, check that all detergents, bleaches, cleaners and especially drain cleaners, as well as soaps and bug killers are not under the sink in an unlocked cupboard, but up high in a cupboard with a childproof lock.
  • Products containing lye are extremely dangerous. Don’t keep these in your home. Keep alcoholic drinks up out of the reach of children.
  • Buy products with childproof or child-resistant caps. Opening them should require thumb pressure beyond the ability of small children.
  • In the bathroom, besides checking that soaps are out of reach, keep medicines, cosmetics, colognes, toothpaste and mouthwashes out of reach — and preferably locked up.
  • Don’t leave pills in open bottles or in a dish of “the day’s dose of medicine.” Make sure all product labels are clear — both on medicine and on products that might be found anywhere in the house. In an emergency, you will need to know what product was involved. Continue reading

Why Do We Cheat?

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Even a child can explain why cheating is wrong. Students are well-warned about the consequences that ensue, and adults know the legal implications. Yet cases of cheating continue to emerge in classrooms, boardrooms and newsrooms. People cheat on tests, for sports and in elections. Why? Microbiologists Ferric C. Fang and Arturo Casadevall attempted to answer this question by exploring the causes of cheating and why people deceive to get ahead.

Cheating is not unique to any area of society. Seventy-five percent of university students surveyed had cheated, one-third of scientists surveyed admitted to irregularities in their research practices, and an estimated 1.6 million Americans cheat on their taxes. Cheating isn’t even exclusive to humans — even single-celled organisms can “steal” products made by others.

The size of a particular part of the brain called the neocortex is directly related to an animal’s intelligence. It is also responsible for conscious thought and language. Additionally, the size of the neocortex is predictive of the degree that animals engage in deception. The more intelligent the animal, the more it exhibits deceptive behavior. Continue reading

You only need a cleaver and a small knife in the kitchen

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Do you remember “Leave it to Beaver,” the 1950s-60s show with the quintessential suburban American family

Beaver was an 8-year-old with more existential crises than any 8-year-old deserves. His punk older brother, Wally, was always in trouble, and neither his mother, June, nor his dad, Ward, would ever, despite their surname, at least on TV, wield a cleaver.

The cleaver is a large, flat-bladed cutting instrument and, as I grew up, my exposure to cleavers was limited to butchers holding a big one threateningly to cut up a dead animal or maniacs using cleavers to dismember their victims, sometimes their own family members. None of that for the wholesome Beaver and his Cleaver family.

None of these images left me with a great feeling about cleavers. Nor did my folks even own one. We killed our chickens with a regular hand hatchet. So when I got one as part of a knife set, I slid it into the back of my drawer not to be seen again for five years.

Then, not long back, I discovered the surprising and easy-to-use aspects of the cleaver for preparation of healthy food. Continue reading

Be cautious with hot water around children, elderly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Drs. Sally Robinson & Keith Bly

Keeping Kids Healthy

No one wants to be burned. Even the smallest burn hurts more than a cut the same size.

Larger burns not only hurt but can result in significant pain, permanent scarring, loss of the use of limbs and even death.

Most scald burns can be prevented. Scald burns occur from accidental spills of hot liquids or from hot tap water.

Scald burns happen most often in children age 5 and younger and the elderly. Several things can be done to prevent these burns.

For accidental spills, always make sure that the handles of pans are turned away so that young children cannot reach up and grab them and extension cords to coffee pots and other electric cookers are not hanging off the counter.

About a 1-second exposure to water at 160 degrees will result in a third-degree burn, which is the most severe burn and will leave a scar. Continue reading

Explore all options with your doctor during menopause

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

The change of life sounds so dramatic. Life is always changing.

Hormonally, we have menarche (starting periods), cyclic changes (including premenstrual syndrome), pregnancy and postpartum hormonal changes, and alas — menopause.

It should probably be called meno‘stop’ rather than meno‘pause,’ because the ovaries have sputtered out and are not likely to get going again.

Women spend about one-third of their lives in menopause. The loss of estrogen in our bodies manifests itself in more ways than hot flashes. Estrogen receptors are present throughout our bodies and impact our mind, mood, heart, waistline and sexual function.

Estrogen receptors are abundant in the areas of our brain that are important for working and episodic memory. Limited clinical trial evidence has shown that women undergoing surgical menopause (having their ovaries removed) may benefit from the prompt initiation of estrogen therapy to preserve their ability to remember words.

Additionally, estrogen promotes neuronal growth and formation of synapses, acts as an antioxidant to protect the brain from damaging free radicals and elevates levels of neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, which can have a profound effect on mood. Continue reading

Learn the lessons of the garden angels

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Something magical happens during that springtime ritual of turning over a spade of dirt in the garden. Garden angels seem to appear from wherever they have been hiding all winter.

While digging in the garden last weekend, I had somewhat of an epiphany due, I believe, to their visitation.

As a lifelong gardener, I have always found deep pleasure and satisfaction in getting dirt under my fingernails, putting seeds in a little line and seeing them sprout next to neatly labeled signs or seed envelopes, and ultimately enjoying the fruits of homegrown produce.

Last week, my granddaughter Serenity, now almost 6, and I played with mixing soil in a big container, set out Gerber Daisies, which seem to bloom forever, and decided where the tomatoes would go. She helped me choose how my colorful new tomato cages — bright purple, yellow, orange, and red from Tom’s Thumb — would be artistically arranged.

I enjoy introducing her each spring to the joys of gardening as part of the cycle and rhythm of life.

So while digging and weeding and planting, several metaphysical principles came to me that I wish to share. Continue reading

Violence against women hurts us all

Dr. Jeff Temple

Dr. Jeff Temple

The arrest in recent weeks of more than 30 fugitives wanted in Harris County on domestic violence charges should bring home the fact that intimate partner violence is widespread. Last year, and the year before, the Harris County District Attorney’s office filed more than 10,500 cases of domestic violence. Thirty people were killed in cases of domestic violence in the county, the most in the state.

Violence against women is a pervasive and widespread plague on our society – one that crosses geographic, economic and racial lines. In the United States alone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.3 million women each year are victims of physical violence at the hands of their partners; one in four will be physically assaulted by a boyfriend or husband in her lifetime. Texas is no exception to this problem.

While men also are victims of family violence, women overwhelmingly are the targets. In 2012, which saw nearly 200,000 instances of family violence, 114 women were killed by their partner in the Lone Star State. Continue reading

Human memory might be able to be altered in the future

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

In the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” people can request a medical procedure that targets memories pertaining to a specific subject or person and change or delete them.

Several characters choose to have their memories of unrequited love and failed relationships erased.

While the plot is purely fictional, new research does provide intriguing new details on how memories are stored and how they might be manipulated.

Memories are stored in the temporal lobe and the hippocampus of the brain. Experiences produce physical and chemical changes in specific brain cells.

Connections between brain cells that help with memory storage also can change. Scientists can identify the precise cells in a network involved with a specific experience. These are called memory traces or engrams.

Nobel Prize winner Susumu Tonegawa and his team wanted to explore how these memory traces are stored in cells. They used cells from the hippocampus that contained a light-sensitive protein called channelrhodopsin. Continue reading