Posts tagged with "World Health Organization"

Worried sick: Will you catch something if you fly?

February 6, 2020

Will your chances of coming down with an illness go sky-high, if you book a seat on a commercial flight? It seems as inevitable as cramped overhead space or a battle for the armrest: Someone on your flight will be coughing, sneezing, or sniffling. Or all three.

And during flu season—not to mention at a time when the fast-spreading new coronavirus has halted much of the world’s air traffic to and from China—that can be disconcerting and scary.

It all depends, experts say. The biggest factor: whether your closest plane neighbors are sick, according to a report by The Washington Post.

Specifically, the World Health Organization has said that passengers seated in the same row as well as two rows in front and behind of someone who is sick should be notified of potential exposure to infectious diseases.

But a Boeing-funded study on transmission of respiratory diseases on planes published two years ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the danger zone is more narrow.

“It’s more of a one-row rule,” Vicki Hertzberg, first author on the study and director of the Center for Nursing Data Science at Emory University, told the Post. She said the people immediately in front of a sick passenger, two seats on either side,or in the row in front or behind are the most vulnerable. The study applied to upper respiratory infections that could be spread through large droplet transmission.

“It’s not that you have to worry so much about the guy that’s four rows behind you that’s hacking,” says Hertzberg, a professor in Emory’s School of Nursing. “Maybe it’s just the person that’s immediately behind you or in front of you.”

She told the DC-based news outlet that passengers in the aisle are at a higher risk of infection than those in a window seat because they are more exposed to potentially sick people as they pass by.

“So the strategy I take now for flying is, I take a window seat, and I don’t get up,” she says.

Passengers who end up near someone who is sick may have no good options, since planes so often fly full.

“You go to church and the person next to you is coughing, you move a row back,” David Weber, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and medical director of the Infection Prevention Department, told the newspaper. “Can’t do that on a plane.”

While warning that anyone with a “known active communicable disease” should not fly, the World Health Organization also offers some reassurance to nervous air travelers.

“Research has shown that there is very little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on-board an aircraft,” the agency says, citing the high-efficiency particulate air filters that planes use on recirculated cabin air. If that ventilation system is not operating on the ground before takeoff, for example, contagious illnesses are more likely to spread.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) compares planes to other areas where people are close together for an extended period of time —although it notes that the air supply in plane cabins “is essentially sterile and particle-free.”

“The overall risk of contracting a disease from an ill person onboard an airplane is similar to that in other confined areas with high occupant density, such as a bus, a subway, or movie theatre for a similar time of exposure … anywhere where a person is in close contact with others,” the group says. “That said, the risk on airplanes is probably lower than in many confined spaces, because modern airplanes have cabin-air-filtration systems equipped with HEPA filters.”

There are factors that can make people more prone to getting sick from flying, experts say. The air on planes is low in humidity, which can irritate mucosal membranes in the nose and mouth and skin, leading passengers to scratch and create tiny tears.

“If your nose has a little tiny microscopic gash in it, a tear, that’s a perfect place for a virus to land on and infect you,” Howard Markel, a professor of the History of Medicine and pediatrician at the University of Michigan, told The Washington Post.

And some viruses, influenza included, survive better in dry air, says Charles Gerba, a professor of Microbiology at the University of Arizona. He has also tested tray tables on planes and found evidence of influenza, norovirus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The latches on lavatory doors, he said, were also quite dirty.“The moral of the story is, sit at a window, try to not go to use the toilet and don’t put the tray down,” Gerba told the Post.

He and Weber both say they carry alcohol wipes when they fly to wipe down surfaces like armrests and tray tables. And while medical experts don’t agree on how well face masks work to ward off illness, Weber said he still carries one in case he cannot escape a sick seatmate.

“If everyone is coughing and hacking around me, I’ll put it on,” he says.

And HEPA filters or not, Hertzberg, the Emory professor, said one thing to leave off if people are coughing nearby is the overhead air vent. Rather than bathe a passenger with a clean flow of air, she says, it could actually help shoot not-so-clean air right at the person sitting underneath.

“It kind of attracts those droplets and then captures them into that airflow and pushes them down onto you,” she says.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

A change of heart? Tiny wearable sensors will help expectant moms track fetuses’ heartbeat, movements

August 23, 2019

About 2.6 million women and their loved ones experience the pain and loss of a stillbirth each year, according to The World Health Organization. Now, researchers have developed a device that will give expectant mothers more “control” over and knowledge about their pregnancies—in real-time, with a tiny, non-invasive fetal heartrate monitor, which they claim is more accurate than anything else yet on the market.

The thump, thump of a baby’s heartbeat is a milestone in any pregnancy. Researchers at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey,  have conducted a pilot study in which a sensor—worn on the mother’s abdomen—records vibrations when her baby’s heart beats or when the fetus squirms and kicks. 

. “Almost a third of stillbirths occur in the absence of complicating factors,” said Negar Tavassolian, director of the Stevens Bio-Electromagnetics Laboratory.”Our device could let a pregnant woman know if her fetus is compromised and she needs to go to the doctor.”

Many stillbirths are preceded by variations in fetal movement and heartrate, so affordable, lightweight monitors that detect vibrations generated from a heartbeat could be worn continuously in the final weeks of pregnancy to ensure that distressed fetuses receive prompt medical attention. The work is reported in the early access issue of IEEE Sensors Journal.

Tavassolian and first author Chenxi Yang, a graduate student at Stevens, teamed up with Bruce Young and Clarel Antoine, two OB-GYNs at New York University-Langone Medical Center to test their sensors. In experiments on 10 pregnant women, they found the device could detect fetal heartrate with about the same accuracy as fetal cardiotocograms (f-CTG), which measure the baby’s heart electrical activity (ECG) together with mother’s uterine contractions—and is considered the current standard for fetal monitoring.

A vibration monitor offers important advantages over existing tools based on ECG or Doppler ultrasound technology, which require specialized knowledge to use, and can be bulky and expensive. One leading monitor system currently on the market weighs more than 11 pounds and has a battery life of four hours; by contrast, the Stevens team’s sensors are barely a fifth-of-an-inch long, weigh next to nothing, and can run off a 3-volt battery for more than 24 hours.

The new monitor poses no risk to the fetus—a concern with ultrasound monitors, which can heat tissue if used continuously for long periods. The Stevens team’s monitor simply detects existing vibrations, like a doctor listening with a stethoscope. “Our monitors are completely passive, so there’s no health concern,” Tavassolian said.

Vibration monitors can also offer an objective measure of fetal movement, which is currently assessed simply by asking moms to count the times their baby kicks. Combining heart-rate and movement data could provide vital insights into fetal health, surpassing anything that’s currently available, Yang explained. “That’s the big plan — to fuse these different modalities into a single device,” he said.

The current device uses commercially available sensors, but the long-term goal is to patent and market a custom-built device.

Research contact: @FollowStevens

Researchers say wireless earphones could be a source of carcinogenic radiation

March 15, 2019

While most of us have worried at one time or another that our use of smartphones could endanger our health, it turns out that the earphones—specifically, wireless earbuds—could pose a much greater danger, News-Medical.net reports.

Specifically, medical researchers are worried about wireless earbuds, such as the AirPods introduced by Apple in 2016. These wireless earpieces transmit data using a type of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiowave via Bluetooth technology. The proximity of this radiation to the brains of the users is cause for concern, they say.

In fact, News-Medical.net notes, a group of 250 experts and researchers have signed a petition to the United Nations and World Health Organization to stop the use of these and other wireless devices.

The petition reads, “Based upon peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices.”

It goes on to say that the risk of cancer, neurological disorders, and DNA damage that have been associated with EMF exposure cannot be ignored.

Jerry Phillips, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs agrees with the medical alert. He told the news outlet, “My concern for AirPods,” he says, “is that their placement in the ear canal exposes tissues in the head to relatively high levels of radio-frequency radiation.” Phillips is one of the many scientists who have called for a restriction on use of such devices.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently confirmed that these EMF waves could be “possibly carcinogenic” to humans. These waves are similar to UV rays or x-rays—but are not as powerful. They can cause burns at high concentration but are generally of less impact. The debate about whether they are carcinogenic is still ongoing.

The World Health Organization developed guidelines that regulate the amount of EMF the devices are allowed to emit. The petition adds, “The various agencies setting safety standards have failed to impose sufficient guidelines to protect the general public, particularly children who are more vulnerable to the effects of EMF. By not taking action, the WHO is failing to fulfill its role as the preeminent international public health agency.”

The guidelines insist that phones should be kept away from the body when not in use. Sleeping with the phone is not a good practice and usage of headsets or headphones to conduct phone calls is suggested as a good option.

Research contact @AzoNetwork

Is Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Goop’ duping readers by giving them the wrong ‘poop’ on products?

October 30, 2018

Goop, the lifestyle brand—and blog—created by actress Gwyneth Paltrow, has been reported to the U.K.’s trading standards and advertising watchdogs over allegations that it makes misleading claims about its products, CNBC reported on October 29.

The Good Thinking Society, a non-profit charity that campaigns against pseudoscience, confirmed to CNBC that it had submitted the complaint about Goop to the U.K.’s National Trading Standards and Advertising Standards Authority. The news was first reported by The Sunday Times newspaper on October 28.

The complaint, seen by CNBC, alleges that Goop’s “wellness” products are advertised misleadingly and make “potentially harmful” claims. It also holds that Goop’s advertising could encourage customers to “use products which could cause direct harm” and that some of the firm’s health claims about its supplement products are “unauthorized.”

Paltrow’s firm was founded in the United States in 2008, and opened its first pop-up store in the U.K. in September. The charity listed 113 examples of Goop’s advertising that it says are in breach of the law.

One of Goop’s products, called The Mother Load—A $90, 30-day regimen of vitamins for pregnant and post-pregnant women—promises to deliver 110% of the “daily value” of vitamin A for adults and children aged four and above, and 69% of the daily value for pregnant women.

That may seem promising—however, Britain’s National Health Service and the World Health Organization both recommend against taking supplements containing vitamin A during pregnancy. Indeed, the NHS website recommends that pregnant women “avoid taking supplements that contain vitamin A.”

Dr, Susan Beck, SVP of Science and Research at Goop, told The Huffington Post on October 28, “When used as recommended, goop’s the Mother Load supplements are safe during pregnancy. The Mother Load contains a very moderate 450 mcg (micrograms),” or 1500 IU (international units), “of vitamin A (preformed vitamin A as retinyl palmitate), which is less than the recommended daily intake of 600 mcg per day (per NHS).”

Beck added: “The Mother Load package contains a warning that pregnant women should not consume more than 10,000 IU vitamin A daily due to risk of birth defects. To provide you with more context — all pregnant women need vitamin A.”

Laura Thomason, project manager at the Good Thinking Society, said in a statement that she emailed to CNBC: “It is shocking to see the sheer volume of unproven claims made by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop about their products—especially given that some of their health advice is potentially dangerous.”

Thomason added: “Gwyneth Paltrow may well have good intentions, but she and her company sell products with claims that could clearly mislead customers. Just because Gwyneth has an Academy Award, it does not mean that Goop should be given an easy ride compared to other big corporations.”

This is not the first time—even this year—that Paltrow’s Goop has been the target of legal action. The blog settled a $145,000 lawsuit with California prosecutors last month over the advertising of a jade and rose quartz egg which it claimed could balance hormones and regulate menstrual cycles.

Research contact: @Ryane_Browne_