An unwelcome gift from gorillas

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

You probably know that AIDS, which has affected 79 million people and killed 39 million since 1981, is the result of HIV. What you may not know is that there are several different types of this virus and they did not all come from the same source, making the search for HIV’s origins lengthy and complicated.

There are four groups of HIV-1: M, N, O, and P. Each of them was transmitted between African primates as simian immunodeficiency viruses, or SIVs, before infecting humans, and each crossed species to humans independently. More than 40 African primates carry SIVs, which emerged up to 6 million years ago. It is likely that transmission to humans has occurred many times when hunters where exposed to the blood and tissues of infected animals. However the isolation of humans in Africa limited the spread of SIVs that crossed into humans until the last century. Continue reading

Today’s nurses a far cry from Nightingale

Michael M. Warren, M.D.

Michael M. Warren, M.D.

It’s Your Health

Although there were nurses before her time, Florence Nightingale is generally credited with bringing pride and respectability to the nursing profession. And while the “Lady of the Lamp” might relate to the compassion and dedication that continues to be the core of the nurses’ code, she would hardly recognize today’s nurses, nor would she understand one fraction of their duties and responsibilities.

No longer relegated to emptying bedpans and changing the bedding, the modern nurse works in a variety of settings including hospitals, doctors’ offices, schools, industry, governmental offices, businesses, at people’s homes, and as administrators or faculty members in nursing schools. Nurses must be knowledgeable about sophisticated electronic wizardry, complicated therapeutic instructions, and the effects and dangers of new drug treatments as prescribed by a physician. They are often assigned an incredible patient load and encouraged to work extended hours, while being expected to clean up after accidents, be courteous to visiting family and accommodate sensitive patients graciously. Continue reading

Falling into Tai Chi

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

A fall in an older adult can be a serious matter. A hip fracture can lead to disability and frequently results in death in up to 50% within a year. The reasons for falls are complex, usually involving weakness, poor sight, balance, medication side effects, drops in blood pressure, chronic diseases, and bone and joint problems.

Identifying ways to reduce the risk of falls and the fear of falling is a major health challenge in older adults. One approach that has been widely studied and found to reduce falls by 25-50% is the ancient, slow-moving, graceful martial art known as Tai Chi. The flowing, measured movements in various directions emphasize balance, flexibility, and rooted movement.

I learned about Tai Chi just after graduating from my residency at a wellness conference and have been practicing it for over 30 years. In fact, I started Tai Chi for therapy after I fell off a ladder working on the house and injured my knee. Each morning since, you might see me on my back deck in a slow, meditative movement, stepping, bobbing, lifting legs and arms in a way that may look a bit odd. When I first practiced Tai Chi in public places, it was often to the hoots of kids and the stares of adults unfamiliar with it. I tended to retreat after that to private places but now, Tai Chi is well enough known that practicing on the beach or in a park, even in an unused airport gate rarely rates a second glance. Continue reading

Roaches and other bugs have no place in the hospital

Michael M. Warren, M.D.

Michael M. Warren, M.D.

It’s Your Health

Humans have been around for thousands of years. Trees, even longer. But in the beginning, there were roaches. And they will be here long after the last human vanishes.

Most people cringe, when they see a roach, feeling an immediate urge to crush this pesky creature. And everyone assumes that roaches are very dirty and carry dreadful diseases.

One thing is certain when it comes to roaches and all other bugs: They have no place in the hospital. But few things are more difficult to eliminate than bugs. Think about your hospital room: it is your bedroom, dining room, bathroom and family room miniature house all crammed into a few square feet.

There’s ongoing traffic bringing food, plants, flowers and other materials that are all havens for bugs.

A patient’s father complained to me once (after a heavy rain and during “ant” season) that there were ants in his daughter’s hospital room. He wanted to know if there would be bugs in the operating room crawling on the scalpels, carrying dirt and bacteria. Of course, I assured the gentleman that this was most unlikely and scurried off to check out the operating room. Continue reading

Microlesions shine light on causes of epilepsy

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Humans have been recording and diagnosing epilepsy for at least 4,000 years, but it only began to be understood a few hundred years ago. While doctors noticed some epileptic patients had brain lesions, others did not have any that were visible — until now. Using a combination of gene expression analysis, mathematical modeling and microscopy, scientists have found microlesions in the brains of epilepsy patients, which may explain the cause of seizures in some people.

Epilepsy is characterized by unpredictable seizures that result from groups of neurons firing abnormally. Some people experience symptoms before a seizure that allows them to prepare. In some cases, seizures can include jerking, uncontrolled movements and loss of consciousness. In others, the seizure may only cause confusion, muscle spasms or a staring spell. Epilepsy patients experience repeated seizure episodes. Continue reading

How you can overcome the ‘hospital blues’

Michael M. Warren, MD

Michael M. Warren, MD

It’s Your Health

No one enjoys being sick or hospitalized. It isn’t bad enough that you’re in pain or feeling awful; but now you’re in a strange bed, in a strange environment, often sharing a room with a stranger who snores, and the TV doesn’t even carry your favorite channel. Who can blame you for feeling just a bit sorry for yourself?

But wait! What about your family? Not only do they feel somewhat lonely and abandoned but they may feel helpless, too. How can they help? Contribute to your recovery? Do something? Anything?

Family members should talk to your doctor or nurse; they can visit the patient relations department; and by asking the right people the right questions, family members can discover many ways they can help to make your hospital stay more comfortable and less traumatic. Continue reading

Wellness challenge

Here is a quote by Phillips Brook that emphasizes the value of taking on new challenges in our lives:

“Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.”

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

For any of us to grow into a newer, better version of ourselves, we must accept challenges which by definition require us to stretch our limits into our unexplored and possible selves.

Just picture a toddler learning to walk. No longer satisfied with just crawling or cruising the furniture, he or she takes a tentative few steps and then, with a wide-eyed look of delight, plunks down on a soft bottom only to get up and try again. And again. Trip, stumble, fall, get up, get up, and then, miraculously, they just keep going until parents, grandparents, and other loved ones can barely keep up with the little speedsters.

Challenging ourselves to achieve wellness is a similar process.

Start, drop, stop, try again, again, believe, achieve. Continue reading

Doctor’s simple advice for men: a few simple steps can lead to a healthier life

Dr. Selwyn O. Rogers

Dr. Selwyn O. Rogers

When I moved to Galveston last year, I was overweight and out of shape.

An annual visit to the doctor diagnosed me with hypertension and an abnormal glucose level. I was anything but a model for wellness. And I was about to become the Chief Medical Officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Confession is good for the soul and hard on the ego, but if I can grab control of my life, anybody can. It wasn’t long before I copied the behavior of healthy islanders and began jogging on the beach and cycling on the sea wall. The result for me is better controlled blood pressure and glucose and I lost 10 percent of my arrival weight!

This month, we celebrate National Men’s Health Month, a time to focus on heightening awareness of preventable health problems and encouraging early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. I encourage all the men reading this column to think about taking some small steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Continue reading

Dollars and sense of Alzheimer’s

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

As people age, they begin to worry about developing dementia and its most common cause, Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a neurodegenerative disease that can affect your cognitive abilities, the ability to function in daily life and orientation. If that’s not devastating enough, those with Alzheimer’s only live four years to eight years on average after diagnosis.

In America, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death. Today 5.1 million of those 65 or older are living with this disease, a number that is only expected to grow as the population ages — by 2050 it is projected to affect 13.5 million of those 65 or older. The few drugs readily available only moderate the symptoms, as there is no way to cure, slow or prevent Alzheimer’s. Continue reading

Kitchen cures for what ails you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

I invite you to share your story about some remedies your mother may have taken from the kitchen to soothe your miseries as a child. Many of these were stout, traditional applications surviving from the pre-scientific era. Their evidence was their effectiveness, economy and safety. Often given out of hope, history, and even the hysteria of not knowing what else to do, home remedies are truly the first line of primary care.

Think back to your childhood: a skinned knee, an insect bite, a cold sore, a cough, sore throat, toothache, fever. Likely there was a home cure for all of these.

I grew up in a family that today would be considered the working poor. My dad was an auto and heavy equipment mechanic working on commission. My mom was a stay-at-home ‘50s housewife. I never remember going to the emergency room as a child, nor did my three siblings though we had vaguely heard of Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It helped, I guess, when three of us had our tonsillectomies the same day.

When we got sick, I remember going to the doctor but only sometimes. This was usually for shots. Ouch! I also remember many more times when kitchen cures were applied and seemed to do the trick. I guess they had to since we couldn’t afford a doctor visit for every minor complaint. Continue reading