Headlines: December 28, 2010
by Meg Larkin
First, in national health news, more than one quarter of adolescents in the United States take prescription medication. Over 25% of American children and teenagers take prescription medication on a chronic, or regular basis. This raises questions about dosing and effectiveness because most medications that are prescribed for children are only ever tested on adults. This means that potential side effects may not be known, and that doctors may not know what dose may be effective for a child, and what dose may be too much. An increasing number of studies have been done in children under a program sponsored by the FDA to encourage the practice. More than 1/3 of these studies uncovered inappropriate dosing, and little is still known about the long term effects of medication in children, since most studies only last a few weeks. Doctors interviewed by the Wall Street Journal recommended that parents get involved in their children’s treatment by looking into alternatives for medication, finding out what research exists on their child’s prescription, and getting second opinions.
In research news, a new study has found that a larger amygdala is linked to increased socialization. A preliminary study at Northeastern University looked at brain scans of 58 people and found that a larger amygdala was linked to more social behavior and more time spent with friends and family. It is unclear at this point whether the larger amygdala leads to increased socializing, or whether increased socializing may lead to the extra development in that region of the brain. The goal of the research is to develop general knowledge, and it is not currently aimed at any specific scientific payoff.
In global health news, malaria cases have increased in Sri Lanka. Malaria cases have jumped 25% in the country that was once thought to be a bellwether for malaria eradication efforts worldwide. Malaria was almost eradicated in the country back in 1948 through increased spraying with insecticide, but the number of cases crept up over the years as the use of pesticides fell out of favor. Thirty years of civil war, and the political instability that followed led to a decline in public health efforts, and a concurrent increase in new cases of malaria. Last year, the civil war ended, but malaria cases have continued to rise, indicating that political instability can derail even the most promising eradication efforts.
In other global health news, Sudan is proving a challenge in the Carter Center’s efforts to eradicate guinea worm. Currently, more than 95 percent of the world’s guinea worm cases occur in Sudan. The parasite is spread through contaminated water, and causes people to be unable to work for a number of weeks while it exits the body through a painful sore. It can be eliminated by avoiding contact with water by infected persons and by using drinking straws and other filtration devices to avoid new infections. However, the remoteness of the current pools of infection in Sudan, and the political instability in the country are threatening the Carter Center’s eradication efforts. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who heads the center, says it is still his goal to eradicate guinea worm within his lifetime.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.