Category Archives: Public Health

AIDS In Africa, George W. Bush And Lady Gaga… But Not So Much Lady Gaga

George W. Bush in WaPo:

Early in my first term, it became clear that much of sub-Saharan Africa was on the verge of catastrophe. In some nations perhaps a quarter of the population was infected with HIV. The disease was prevalent among teachers, nurses, factory workers, farmers, civil servants – the very people who make a society run. Drugs to treat the disease existed and were falling in price, but they could hardly be found in Africa. Whole countries were living in the shadow of death, making it difficult for them to plan or prepare for the future.

Our response began with an effort to reduce mother-to-child transmission of the virus – the saddest, most preventable aspect of the crisis. In 2002, America helped found the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to encourage the concerted action of wealthy nations. In 2003, I announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), an ambitious bilateral program to confront the worst of the pandemic with speed and urgency. Members of Congress from both parties, leaders of African nations and outside advocates such as Bono became partners with my administration in a tremendous undertaking.

In all of these efforts, my concern was results. I was frankly skeptical of some past foreign assistance programs. In this crisis, we needed not only more resources but also to use them differently. So we put in place a unified command structure; set clear, ambitious, measurable goals; insisted on accountability; and made sure that host governments took leadership and responsibility. The results came more quickly than many of us expected. Early in 2003, there were perhaps 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS treatment. Today, thanks to America, other donor nations and the tireless work of Africans themselves, nearly 4 million are. Fragile nations have been stabilized, making progress possible in other areas of development.

But the most vivid results, for me, had a more human scale. On World AIDS Day in 2005, two young children from South Africa, Emily and Lewis, came for a White House visit. They chased around the Oval Office before Emily did what many others no doubt wanted to do – she fell asleep in her mother’s lap during my speech. Both young children were HIV-positive but had begun treatment. I could not even imagine all that curiosity and energy still and silent.

I firmly believe it has served American interests to help prevent the collapse of portions of the African continent. But this effort has done something more: It has demonstrated American character and beliefs. America is a certain kind of country, dedicated to the inherent and equal dignity of human lives. It is this ideal – rooted in faith and our founding – that gives purpose to our power. When we have a chance to do the right thing, we take it.

On this World AIDS Day, considerable progress has been made. The United Nations recently reported that the world has begun to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, considerable need remains. Every human life is precious, and far too many people around the world continue to suffer from the disease.

We still hope for an AIDS vaccine. In the meantime, there are millions on treatment who cannot be abandoned. And the progress in many African nations depends on the realistic hope of new patients gaining access to treatment. Why get tested if AIDS drugs are restricted to current patients? On AIDS, to stand still is to lose ground.

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

I wish George W. Bush would shut up and go away. He keeps reminding me what a fool I was ever to think that the man has a conservative bone in his body.

His Washington Post op-ed this morning illustrates the point. Titled “America’s global fight against AIDS,” it is filled with the kind of emoting, gaseous, feelgood cant about “hope” and “progress” that, if you want it, is in all-too-plentiful supply over at the liberal booth.

I firmly believe it has served American interests to help prevent the collapse of portions of the African continent.

Has it? How? Is any American more prosperous, secure, healthy, or happy because of our government’s efforts at AIDS relief in Africa? How would you demonstrate this? Is it not at least as possible that we have just stored up trouble for the future, as a person more familiar with Africa has written?

But this effort has done something more: It has demonstrated American character and beliefs. America is a certain kind of country, dedicated to the inherent and equal dignity of human lives. It is this ideal — rooted in faith and our founding — that gives purpose to our power. When we have a chance to do the right thing, we take it.

Wilsonian flim-flam. Americans, taken in the generality, are indeed distinctive in their character and beliefs. That distinctiveness has often expressed itself in efforts to improve the lives of people in far-away countries, as in the missionary endeavors to pre-communist China and elsewhere.

It is the most elementary error, though — and certainly one no conservative should make — to confuse private charity with state action. When governments are generous, they are generous with our money, after ripping it from our pockets by force of law.

If George W. Bush, or any other wealthy American, is moved by the plight of AIDS sufferers in Africa, he is free to discharge his feelings by acts of charity. If he were to do so, no-one — no, not even I — would begrudge him the smug self-satisfaction he displays in this op-ed.

There is, however, no virtue in a government official spending your money and mine unless for some reason demonstrably connected to our national interest. AIDS relief in Africa is not so connected, not in any way visible to me.

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

We supported PEPFAR and I am glad we did. America gives foreign aid and George Bush made it better here. If you read his chapter in Decision Points about AIDS and Africa, he does a lot of praising and highlighting of the work of successful private programs PEPFAR has invested in.

And contrary to what you said in your post, Derb, the Bush administration looked to support programs that encourage behavior change — and Bush got blasted for that from the public-health crowd back in the day. Heaven forbid we support programs that work if they might involved the scarlet-a word (the ABC model)! Those are programs that have been grand successes there — as Harvard’s Ted Green demonstrates again and again in his research. And those are the programs that deserve and need support.

And having spent time with the former president recently, I can assure you he does not plan to shut up and go away anytime soon. He’s using his presidential center as an institute to promote human rights –  women’s rights and cyber dissidents in the Middle East and elsewhere, teacher (and principal) support and training here. Private support with a very public voice. It’s a call and duty and an opportunity to him.

Derbyshire responds:

Thanks for that, Kathryn. Thanks too to the 73 (so far) commenters on my original PEPFAR post. I don’t think that’s a record comment thread, but I think I can hear Jonah gnashing his teeth anyway.First I’ll correct an apparent error in Kathryn’s post. She writes: “contrary to what you said in your post, Derb, the Bush administration looked to support programs that encourage behavior change.”

I can’t see anything I wrote that is thus contrary. I wrote: “The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive.”

According to Lyman and Wittels in that Foreign Affairs article I cited (which, a helpful reader tells me, non-subscribers can find in its entirety here, and which I urge all interested parties to read):

In fiscal year 2009, about 45 percent of PEPFAR’s budget was spent on treatment.

At 45 percent, “treatment” — wellnigh congruent with what I described as “the subsidizing of expensive medications” — is just what I said it is: the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort.

Lyman and Wittels go on to note that:

That percentage will only rise in the years ahead as more people are treated and as those who have already begun treatment develop a resistance to first-line drugs and start needing more expensive second-line therapies. Thus, unless overall aid to Africa grows substantially — which is unlikely in these times of deficits and budget stress — PEPFAR, and especially PEPFAR’s treatment programs, will increasingly crowd out other health efforts.

In other words: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

To deal with the comments: The substantive points (no, sorry, I don’t consider “Derbyshire is a jerk” or “Brits suck” to be substantive points) are those arguing that AIDS relief to sub-Saharan Africa is so a U.S. national interest. The main arguments are:

Public healthWith international travel cheap and easy, a high incidence of any infectious disease anywhere is everyone’s concern.

True; but this is properly the province of international agencies like WHO (the people who eradicated smallpox). PEPFAR is a needless duplication of effort. In any case, our first line of defense as a nation should be to deny visas to persons from affected areas, a thing Congress can do in half an hour, which costs our taxpayers nothing. (Likely, in fact, if you throw in externalities, less than nothing.)

Friends give you stuffBy showing our goodness and generosity to these afflicted nations, we cause them to love us and become our BFFs. We shall then have preferential access to their markets and commodities.

As Lyman and Wittels amply demonstrate, PEPFAR generates just what all other welfare programs generate: entitlement, resentment, and the Hegelian inversion of the giver-receiver relationship. Market- and commodity-wise, the current Race for Africa is easily being won by the Chinese, who don’t give a red [sic] cent for AIDS prevention.

Stopping the ChaosAll those AIDS orphans will grow up to be terrorists.

The argument goes that by saving lives through AIDS prevention/treatment we are helping prevent sub-Saharan African countries from turning into so many Somalias and Yemens.

This AIDS-terrorism connection seems to me a mighty stretch. How many of the several thousand terrorists on our current watchlists are AIDS orphans? (My guess: none.) Actual AIDS infection rates for Somalia and Yemen are 0.5 percent and 0.1 percent respectively, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The poverty/chaos/terrorism connection doesn’t seem to hold water anyway. The only terrorist from sub-Saharan Africa I can bring to mind is this one — a child of wealth and privilege (like Osama bin Laden).

This argument is hard to sustain even from a Bushite standpoint that the best hope for damping down terrorism is to spread democracy. PEPFAR is a hindrance to democracy-promotion, as Lyman and Wittels explain.

Peter Wehner in Commentary:

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Ouch. You very seldom see someone vanquish an argument as conclusively as Pete Wehner destroys John Derbyshire’s absurd beliefs about AIDS in Africa.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Nice. It’s fair to say I’m not a huge fan of Wehner’s work in general. But in the narrow field of defending George W. Bush against unfair attacks, he’s quite effective. And Bush did have a couple decent policy initiatives — his Africa aid policy, and his general policy of attempting to split most Muslims against radical Islam rather than demonize the entire religion.

And focusing on the first few words of Derbyshire’s piece, Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

I confess to confusion at the reader comments here about how NR is a GOP flack. I, as one person among many at NR, believe George Bush deserves some credit and a little more respect than a shut-up-and-go-away post. But NR disagreed with the Bush administration on a whole host of issues. (I did, too.)

Republican administrations and officers could tell you all about their frustration with NR on a whole host of issues. Veterans of the Bush White House will not-so-fondly remember NR on faith-based initiatives, on No Child Left Behind, on the Department of Homeland Security, on Harriet Miers, on immigration . . . I could go on. He wasn’t the perfect conservative, but I think we knew that walking in. And I might add that even the perfect conservative wasn’t always perfect: Go back and read old issues of NR from the Reagan administration; we praised him when we believed he was doing what was best; when we believed he was not, we not only criticized and persuaded but, in some cases, led the opposition.

Mike Potemra at The Corner:

Count me an admirer of George W. Bush. So I was a little taken aback by the fact that the number of people who clicked “Like” on Kathryn’s defense of him was just as low – two — as the number of those who “Liked” my endorsement of Lady Gaga. But I am quite heartened to report that, of the conservatives who e-mailed me about my Gaga post – and by the way, many thanks for taking the time to do so! — the ones who supported my view significantly outnumbered the naysayers. This surprised me; I learned back when I was working in the Senate that people generally are more likely to take the time and effort to write when they are angry about something than when they like what you are doing, so if you actually get a preponderance of positive mail, that’s a really great sign. In any case, there are a lot of conservatives out there who agreed with me.

Perhaps something similar obtains in the case of conservatives and W.? Sure, there are things he did that were wrong from the general perspective of conservative orthodoxy, and many more from the perspective of the countless mini-orthodoxies of various sub-types of conservatism. But on the whole, I’d guess that a Silent Majority of conservatives (even if they, too, might object to some particular Bush policy) think he’s a decent fellow and are grateful that he was there for those eight years.

Jim Antle at The American Spectator:

Perhaps not surprisingly, I come down on John Derbyshire’s side of this debate: “I wish George W. Bush would shut up and go away.” Let’s stipulate that a number of his individual policies — including those expiring tax cuts! — were sound, that he was a decent guy, and that even in his faults he was not the uniquely malevolent figure that many liberals (and some paleoconservatives) make him out to be. On several big questions, his administration differed from Barack Obama’s in degree but not kind.

Although Bush did favor legislation that would have reigned in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he also supported Community Reinvestment Act-style extensions of credit to the uncreditworthy to the same degree as Obama and Bill Clinton. He and his Federal Reserve appointees favored, or at least did nothing to stop, the loose monetary policies that helped inflate the financial bubble. He not only refused to cut domestic spending to pay for his post-9/11 anti-terrorism campaign but actually continued to increase it, paying for two wars on credit. When the financial collapse inevitably came, he responded by supporting the bailouts.

When it came to increasing federal spending, enlarging the national debt, growing the government, enhancing Washington’s role in health care, and encouraging state-managed crony capitalism, Bush may not be in the same league as Obama. But he definitely started the country on the path Obama has accelerated, reversing the fiscal discipline a Republican Congress once imposed on Clinton. And to the extent that his policies encouraged the housing and financial bubble, Bush helped pave the way for Obama and the Democrats to come in and push the country to the left in those areas where Bush was relatively conservative.

To absolve George W. Bush of these things is to make the case against Obama incoherent apart from mere partisanship. And it is to let Bush-brand Republicans off the hook for the political defeats that made an Obama administration, with special guest stars Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, possible in the first place.

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Buggin’ Out

Dorsey Shaw at New York Magazine:

Last night, The Daily Show devoted an entire segment to the very unfunny bed bug problem that’s sweeping New York. Thankfully, host Jon Stewart managed to bring the funny by including an informative, but disturbing clip from Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno series that featured the actress dressed up like a giant bed bug who emotes while getting penetrated by a penis that is actually a knife. And you thought Blue Velvet was weird.

Gulliver at The Economist:

BEDBUGS have been resurgent in America since the mid-1990s. But the situation has gotten out of hand in recent years. New York City, where bedbugs have been found in movie theatres and clothing stores, has been especially hard-hit. Now, USA Today reports, even workplace infestations are on the rise:

Nearly one in five exterminators have found bedbugs in office buildings in the U.S., according to a recent survey of extermination firms by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky. That compares with less than 1% in 2007.

“It’s a national issue,” says Ron Harrison of pest control firm Orkin. “Not all of us have to go to work and worry about it, but we all have to be sensitive to it.”

Most cubicle dwellers and corner office executives are blissfully unaware of bug problems. And many wrongly think infestations take place only in the homes of unclean folks or in college dorms. But bedbugs can survive in a multitude of eek-evoking settings, such as offices, movie theaters and libraries

The Internal Revenue Service, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, and even Time magazine have discovered bedbugs in their offices recently, according to the USA Today report. (The Economist‘s offices are still bedbug-free—at least as far as I know.) The problem, of course, is that bedbugs are highly mobile. They can travel on people and on the things that people travel with—suitcases, duffel bags, clothing, and so on. That’s why we business travellers have to be so wary. But there’s only so much you can do, right?

Jasmine Moy at The Awl:

So, I realized that my apartment was infested. Because never breathing again is not an option, I sought a solution.

Here is a short list of things that you should absolutely not do. Not only do these things not solve your problem, they’re expensive and time consuming.

1. DO NOT PANIC. Panicking leads to doing all of the things on this list.

2. Do not throw away your mattress. Even if you put a sign that says, “bedbugs!” on it, you never know who might pick it up, including someone else in your building, which means you’re making the problem bigger for yourself.

3. Do not buy a new mattress. If you haven’t thoroughly attended to the rest of your belongings, they’ll find your new mattress in no time.

4. Do not move. You’ll probably move them with you.

5. Do not bring all your clothes to the dry cleaner. It’s pointless, see above.

There are however a number of cheap ways to start combating the problem.

1. Get carpet tape (that’s the thick, double-sided stuff) and roll a line of it in your apartment doorways, which will keep them from getting in or out of your room/apartment. (Some have suggested outlining your bed with it, which seems extreme and is not aesthetically pleasing but would work as a preventive measure.)

2. Put the legs of your bed in small plastic containers and put ½ an inch of baby oil in the containers, which will keep bugs from getting into or out of your bed (they’re not good climbers).

3. Invest in mattress covers to cover your mattress and box spring.

4. Buy a gallon or so of rubbing alcohol and some spray bottles. Rubbing alcohol is your new best friend. It not only kills bed bug eggs, but also works as a repellent to keep them from laying new ones, and keeps them from biting you at night.

However, whatever the Internet says about being able to conquer the bugs all by yourself, I wouldn’t try it. Just as it’s unwise to get cut-rate Lasik, or fly to Mexico for plastic surgery, the risks outweigh the cost of paying a good professional.

My roommate had been working at a restaurant and the owner there recommended Mario to us. He was no-nonsense and comforting. He assured us that we weren’t dirty people and that we had nothing to be ashamed of. Just last week he’d seen a bedbug crawling on a guy’s shirt on the subway (oof) so really, you can get them any place! This somehow managed to make me feel both better and not-at-all better at the same exact time.

Before he could come and spray (fumigating almost never works in one shot, he said, and heating/freezing all your things costs a fortune and requires days in extreme temperatures, either below 10 degrees or above 115 degrees Fahrenheit), we had to take every object we owned, spray it thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, and bag it. Electronics could be given a once over with alcohol wipes. All clothes had to be put in the dryer for 10 minutes and bagged.

“When I get there,” he informed us, “I want all the bags in the center of each room, leave suitcases out, mattresses uncovered, all shelves and dressers empty. I will not touch your apartment unless this is done.” Yes, sir!

Over the course of the next week, as I carried load after load of laundry up and down my 5th floor walkup to the corner laundromat, I couldn’t think of anything worse that could happen to a person, short of terminal illness or loss of a limb. Even then, I assumed this had a silver lining: “Hey! Less body area to feast on!”

I sprayed myself head to toe in rubbing alcohol each night. I slept without covers and kept a flashlight next to my bed so that when I woke up in the middle of the night (I was being startled awake by nightmares several times an evening, go figure), I could try to catch them in the act. Why? I don’t know. Too afraid to kill a bug with my bare hands, I’d probably have just flicked it onto something else to burrow in.

Every morning I’d spend fifteen minutes inspecting every inch of my body to see whether a bite I had was a new one or not (some people mark them with pens, but that seems, to me, to call more attention to them than necessary).

You start looking for bedbugs on strangers on the train. You start imagining what kind of people let them get to the point at which piles of them are found in corners, and mattresses are covered like beehives. I was afraid to tell people I had bedbugs, afraid that if they knew, they wouldn’t want me in their houses. I wouldn’t blame them.

Bedbugs are, in a word, traumatic. But little by little, the bags started to accumulate. It turned out to be a great excuse to clean house. Any clothes that weren’t worth carrying up the four flights of stairs after their cleansing trip in the dryer went straight into a Salvation Army bin outside the laundromat. I invested in those vacuum seal bags, which conveniently also saved me a ton of storage space! I felt good knowing that all the clothes I was wearing were sealed in bags that no bug could penetrate.

Christine Egan at Huffington Post:

Dear paranoid, irrational, germophobic humans:

We understand from recent media reports that some of you have become infatuated — dare we say, obsessed — with us lately. We can’t blame you, but this madness really has to stop.

We live together, and yet we don’t know each other at all. You’re so critical, so judgmental, so hateful, so unwilling to work on the problems in our relationship. It’s sad, really.

Now, we don’t want to get into a whole name-calling thing here, but we think you’re being hypocritical — and we don’t take pleasure in saying so.

But you go to the beach. You sit outside. Mosquitoes bite you. You scratch, complain briefly, apply ointments, and perhaps suggest to your host that he invest in screens. But do you fumigate the boardwalk, set your host’s front porch on fire and throw away the sundress, flip flops or Bermuda shorts you were wearing on the night you drank frozen margaritas in front of the beach bonfire and got 17 mosquito bites? No, you do not.

Even worse, you go back to the beach, weekend after weekend, summer after summer, year after year — only to get bitten again and again. As if that weren’t bad enough, you consistently exhibit this same masochistic behavior at the lake (hideous horse flies), the mountains (odious black flies), and yes, even in your own home: We hate to tell you this, but your filthy pets have fleas, and your bratty kids have head lice. (Which is just plain gross. Please keep them away from us.) And do you wage war against the millions of no-see-ums in your backyard? Of course you don’t, because they’re tiny and have a cute name. Personally, we no-see-the-attraction.

So why the hell are you in such a panic over us all of a sudden — particularly in urban areas like New York City? We don’t spread disease (thank menacing mosquitoes for West Nile Virus and those ticks for Lyme Disease), crawl around your kitchen counters (have you ever seen an earwig? talk about ugly), or cause you any major harm. All we do is nibble you a little, and hell, lots of you don’t even feel our bites or end up scratching at all.

Sure, we may inadvertently give some of you an impressive reddish rash (we can’t help it), but do us a favor and please don’t call us “disgusting” or “nasty” in public. That hurts our feelings. Who do you think we are, anyway, pubic lice? (The very definition of disgusting. And we know you’ve had the crabs, by the way. We live in your bed, remember?) Furthermore, do you have any idea how many dust mites you reside with every day in your McMansions with granite counter tops, media rooms and cathedral ceilings? No, you don’t. And you sure as hell don’t want to, either.

Nina Burleigh at Time:

For reasons still unknown, bedbugs really seem to like the state of Ohio. The problem is so dire in Cincinnati that some people with infested apartments have resorted to sleeping on the streets.

Cincinnati created a Bedbug Remediation Commission in 2007 and, like other local and national governments around the world, the city is trying to mobilize strategies to control infestations of the resilient insects, which can hide in almost any crack or crevice and can go a year or more without eating. On Aug. 10, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a consumer alert about off-label bedbug treatments, warning in particular of the dangers of using outdoor pesticides in homes. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has mounted a more unusual response to the crisis: it petitioned the EPA for an exemption to allow in-home use of propoxur, a pesticide and neurotoxin banned in the 1990s out of concern for its effects on children. (See the top 10 weird insect mating rituals.)

Although the EPA rejected Ohio’s propoxur plea in June, the agency has scheduled an Aug. 18 meeting with state and municipal leaders to try to formulate an abatement strategy everyone can live with. Among the meeting’s participants: representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, no joke, the Department of Defense.

“We are hopeful that the outcome of this meeting provides a solution,” says Ohio agriculture secretary Robert Boggs. “Quite frankly, something needs to happen, and it needs to happen quickly.”

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

Sorry, we’re trying to be more copacetic about bedbugs. But, they’ve invaded the Empire State Building! Towering symbol of modernity? New York icon? Bed bugs don’t give a bed bug fuck. They’re taking it down, from the bottom up.The building issued this statement:

“Like so many other buildings in New York City, the Empire State Building had a small incident of bedbugs. The occurrence was specific to a uniform storage area in the basement of the building. The area has been treated and fully cleared.”

This tourist from Buffalo was pretty copacetic about it, though: He told the Daily News, “You would think that for $20 a ticket, it should not be infested with bugs.”

Wonkette:

Bedbugs! They’re destroying Freedom & Liberty even faster than Debbie Riddle and terror babies combined. In Ohio and several other states, the critters have become so unruly that local governments are calling on the feds — including the Department of Defense — to help find a solution.

Why is Defense the agency you turn to when plotting your War on Bugs? Because they issue Technical Guides on pest management and control. Also, bedbugs might become a national security issue because they scare Americans. Scaring Americans often leads to Americans declaring war, and war is the DoD’s bailiwick. See how that works?

Your Wonkette remembers early rumblings of Bedbug Fever back in the mid-aughts, before the problem reached Full-Blown Epidemic proportions. At the time we lived in New York City, which has since turned into a war zone in which bedbugs compete with cockroaches for territorial control. It’s like the Bloods and Crips all over again. Oh, and did you hear about those bedbugs who crashed the Manhattan movie theaters the other day? They’re worse than not-mosques.

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Over-Easy, Scrambled, Hard Boiled, Full Of Salmonella…

Marion Nestle at The Atlantic:

On Wednesday, the FDA announced yet another voluntary recall of eggs produced by Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa. The first announcement on August 13 covered 228 million eggs. This one adds 152 million for a grand total of 380 million—so far.

In that first announcement, the Wright company said: “Our farm strives to provide our customers with safe, high-quality eggs—that is our responsibility and our commitment.”

That, however, is not how the New York Times sees it. According to a recent account, Wright has a long history of “run-ins with regulators over poor or unsafe working conditions, environmental violations, the harassment of workers, and the hiring of illegal immigrants.”

Okay, so where are we on safety regulation? The FDA, after many, many years of trying, finally introduced safety regulations for shell eggs. These supposedly went into effect on July 9.

I recount the history of FDA’s persistence in the chapter entitled “Eggs and the Salmonella problem” in What to Eat. Check out the table listing the key events in this history from 1980 to 2005. It’s not pretty.

Preventing Salmonella should not be difficult. The rules require producers to take precautions to prevent transmission, control pests and rodents, test for Salmonella, clean and disinfect poultry houses that test positive, divert eggs from positive-testing flocks, refrigerate the eggs right away, and keep records. These sound reasonable to me, but I care about not making people sick.

Problems with Wright County Eggs started in May before the FDA’s mandatory rules went into effect, meaning that the procedures were still voluntary. The recalls this month are after the fact. Chances are that most of the recalled eggs have already been eaten.

Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir:

More egg brands were recalled Friday, bringing the total number recalled due to salmonella concerns to more than half a billion eggs.

Hillandale Farms of Iowa is the latest producer to recall its eggs — more than 170 million that were distributed to 14  states, according to a press release from the company. The were sold under the names Hillandale Farms, Sunny Farms and Sunny Meadow and were distributed in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Only those with plant number P1860 and date codes ranging from 099 to 230, or plant number P1663 and date codes ranging from 137 to 230 are affected.

Ron Hogan at Popular Fidelity:

The eggs were sold under the following litany of brand names:  Lucerne, Mountain Dairy, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Albertson, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, James Farms, Glenview, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Lund, Dutch Farms, Kemps,  and Pacific Coast.  Some eggs recalled were shipped as recently as two days ago, in the early stages of the outbreak.  According to the CDC, you can tell the safety of your eggs by looking at the plant code and date stamped on the label or carton.  The dates range from 136-229, and the plant numbers are 1026, 1413, 1942, and 1946.  At least, those are the current ones.

Remember the old days, when eggs were only bad for your long-term health and not instantly dangerous?  And when giant eggs were cool oddities, not death-spheres full of double-yolked poison?

Curtis Silver at Wired:

What is the danger if I eat contaminated eggs?

This question will come from the daring and the stubborn ones. The ones who challenge the facts and want to know – what’s so bad about eating the eggs? Just throw this word at them – salmonella. I’m pretty sure they’ve heard it before, when handling raw chicken or raw eggs. It’s always a possibility, and is the most common bacterial form of food poisoning. In fact, it leads to about 30 deaths in the annual average 142,000 cases a year. Clearly that’s not a high number compared to the population, but it’s a number nonetheless. Salmonella (Kingdom, Bacteria; Class, Gamma Proteobacteria; Order, Enterobacteriales; Family, Enterobacteriaceae; Genus, Salmonella) will make you sick, and many more people get sick each year than get reported. That number goes up considerably when there is a contaminated product like this batch of eggs.

If you want to show your kids one of the worst slide shows ever to illustrate a sickness, check out this one over at CBS.com. It deftly illustrates that salmonella will cause stomach cramps, nausea, unfortunate bowel movements and so on. Basically, your abdomen wants to expel the germs as much as possible so it makes your abdomen contract over and over, which causes the cramps and stomach sickness. Basically, there is no way for your child to fake salmonella poisoning to get out of going back to school. If your child is sick, you’ll know it and so will they. If they aren’t old enough to be forced to drink, the emergency room is in your immediate future as you don’t want dehydration to set in.

Here’s the rub though, and the smart ones might figure this out: If you cook infected eggs you will kill the bacteria. Cooking eggs to the temperature of 72°Celsius/160°Fahrenheit is all you need to kill the bacteria. Of course, you still run a risk if you under cook the eggs. So really, if you have a two dollar carton of eggs in the fridge you have two choices, cook them anyway and save yourself two bucks, or throw them out. Well, three choices, you can draw targets on the fence and you and the kids can have target practice. Just sayin’.

So what came first? The Chicken or the egg?

The egg. Because dinosaurs laid eggs. And dinosaurs came before chickens. So there.

How do I know if my eggs are bad?

That’s the easy part: Check out this handy list to see if your carton number is on there. Have the kids do a little number comparison and see if they can find a pattern. Of course, the article gives away the range, but perhaps there is something deeper in the numbers. If you can figure it out, leave it in the comments. Of course, I might just be making it up – but I’m sure you’ll come up with something. You awesome geeks always do.

Alan Ng at Products Review:

As reported from CBSNews and according to the Mayo Clinic, there are nine types of Salmonella symptoms. We have the full list to give you now, which will help to determine if you have contracted the disease or not.

The first symptom is Nausea, as vomiting is one key factor associated with salmonella poisoning. Another factor may be diarrhoea. If you find yourself going to the toilet a lot lately, you may have caught salmonella without knowing it. Other symptoms include abdominal pain and fever.

You can check out the full list of salmonella symptoms here.

Julian Pecquet at The Hill:

The recall of 380 million eggs — almost 32 million dozen — due to a possible salmonella contamination is sparking calls for the quick passage of food-safety legislation after the August recess.

The recent outbreak has sickened hundreds of people across multiple states.

The Senate health panel unveiled a manager’s package last week that grants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded powers to recall tainted food, quarantine geographical areas and access food producers’ records. Similar legislation cleared the House in July 2009.

“This outbreak is just further proof of how quickly a food borne illness can multiply across states, sickening Americans and causing widespread distrust over the safety of our food system,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a statement Thursday. “And it adds to the urgency that, for far too long, has told the story of why comprehensive food safety legislation is needed. Our 100-year-old plus food safety structure needs to be modernized.”

Harkin went on to detail how the egg contamination may have played out differently had the bill’s provisions been in effect.

UPDATE: Heather Horn at The Atlantic with a round-up

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Who Knew That An Ogre Was So Dangerous?

Jennifer Taggart at The Smart Mama:

You pull in to the drive through at McDonald’s and you place your order. And then you ask for some cadmium on the side.

What? You don’t want cadmium when you go to McDonald’s? Well, then don’t order the French fries (just so you know, fries generally have 0.06 parts per million or “ppm” cadmium). (For reference and before you panic, low levels of cadmium are found in many items we eat. But the most common source of cadmium exposure for Americans is cigarette smoke.)

And don’t buy the new promotional Shrek Forever After glasses at McDonald’s, because, well, the painted decorations have cadmium.

Yep, that’s right. Cadmium.

Not what you wanted or expected, is it?

But it is true. And today the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced a voluntary recall of those promotional Shrek Forever After glasses. 12 million of those glasses.

I was one of the people to submit the information to the CPSC. I used my Thermo Fisher Scientific Niton XRF analyzer to test all of the current promotional Shrek Forever After glasses – Donkey, Shrek, Fiona and Puss in Boots. And I found cadmium. The cadmium levels varied with the paint color, which made sense. Historically, cadmium has been used in paint to get yellow to deep red hues.

In the Fiona glass, I detected 1,049 ppm cadmium in the baby’s face. I detected no cadmium in Fiona’s dress (at the sleeve) but did find 10,900 ppm chromium.

In Puss in Boots, I detected cadmium at 1,378 ppm in the red pillow on which Puss rests, 1,048 ppm cadmium in the orange part of Puss, and 1,575 ppm cadmium in the yellow lion on which the Gingerbread Man sits. The Puss figure on the back (in the orange) was 1,707 ppm cadmium and 3,721 ppm chromium.

I detected 1,020 ppm in the green used on the Shrek glass. The yellow on that glass (at the Fiona Wanted sign) was 1,946  ppm cadmium.

Now, since the paint on the glasses is a thin film, it is likely that the cadmium levels are actually higher in the paint because the analyzer penetrates the glass, and the glass doesn’t have any cadmium. And, the XRF analyzer detects total and not soluble levels, which, as we know from the Zhu Zhu pets fiasco, can be a big difference.

The real question is – does the cadmium matter? Well, cadmium is considered more toxic than lead and exposure is linked to a number of health problems. Cadmium is a carcinogen. Ingestion of low levels of cadmium can lead to kidney damage and fragile bones. The CPSC’s recall announcement states that “[c]onsumers should stop using recalled products immediately.”

But can you get exposed from cadmium in the painted decorations on the outside of these glasses? The painted decorations are unlikely to leach into liquids contained in the glasses – the decorations are on the outside. So you might not think it matters. The decorations are also below what is known as the “lip and rim area” – or the area where you put your mouth to drink out of the glass – so you are not likely to actually put the painted decorations in your mouth.

However, you can get wear and transfer from the decorations to your hands. While dermal absorption of cadmium is very low, the exposure occurs as cadmium is transferred to your hands and then your mouth or your food. Think about it – drink out of the glass, eat a french fry or your chicken nuggets. Are you going to wash your hands in between? Nope.

Also, washing the glasses can result in contamination of other dishes. In an automatic dishwasher, the heat and intensity of the water hitting the glasses can cause the decorations to deteriorate. Unfortunately, the cadmium can contaminate other dinnerware placed in the dishwasher – although the rinse cycle may remove all or some of it.

Cynthia Dermody at The Stir:

Yes, cadmium is bad news. It’s the 7th worst material on the CDC’s List of Most Hazardous Substances in the Environment, and kids tend to suffer worse effects. But adults are exposed to cadmium, too, every day. And not just from toys.

Where we get it from:

  • Cigarettes (it’s in smoke, and it’s a known carcinogen, which means it causes cancer);
  • Industrial settings with contaminated air;
  • Drinking polluted water;
  • From foods, especially shellfish and kidney and liver meats.

How can it hurt us:

Low levels have not been shown to causes any major health problems, which is a good thing, because we all probably have some in us. But higher levels from direct exposure, especially over time, can lead to dire consequences:

  • Breathing high levels of cadmium can severely damage the lungs;
  • Eating food or drinking water with very high levels severely irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea;
  • Long-term exposure to lower levels of cadmium in air, food, or water leads to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease;
  • Other long-term effects are lung damage and fragile bones.

While the government has put limits on cadmium in drinking water and in the workplace, there are currently no restrictions on cadmium in jewelry and certain other consumer products.

Should you be afraid? Not really. Just don’t work for an OSHA violator, smoke, eat kidney pie more than once a week, or drink unregulated lake water from a Shrek glass and you’ll probably be fine.

Chris Morran at The Consumerist:

The total number of recalled glasses is somewhere in the 12 million range. The CPSC advises that if you are the owner of any of these glasses to discontinue use immediately.

Though no incidents have been reported, long-term exposure to the cadmium present in the printed designs on these glasses could have adverse health effects on the users.

There are four different designs available for the 16-ounce glasses, each featuring a different character from the film — Shrek, Fiona, Puss n Boots and Donkey. All four designs are included in the recall.

Go to McDonalds.com/glasses for additional instructions on how to obtain a full refund.

If you feel the need to speak to someone on the phone, you can call McDonald’s toll-free at (800) 244-6227 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

Peter Chubb at Products Review:

This got us thinking as to what other products contain this chemical? We thought we would do a little search and come up with a list for you. There were reports on May 11 that Claire’s had to issue a recall on 19,000 ‘Best Friends’ kids jewelry as it contained high levels of toxic cadmium. More details on this can be found at the Thaindian News

Wal-mart had to pull Miley Cyrus children’s jewelry of its shelves as it too contained high levels of heavy metal cadmium. More information can be found on USA Today

mistermix:

McDonald’s recall of 12 million Shrek glasses containing cadmium was spurred, in part, by an anonymous tip from blogger/author Jennifer Taggert who used a handheld analyzer to zap the glass and read its heavy metal content. Here’s her take on the danger in the glassware.

What’s interesting and amazing about this story is that this device, an x-ray flourescence analyzer, is just a little bigger than a video game controller and works almost instantly. There’s no reason why the responsible government agency can’t just hire a couple of people to use this tricorder to test samples of every shitty little tchotchke that a fast food restaurant hands out.

Perhaps I was the only person who imagined that testing toys for heavy metal levels was a time-consuming and expensive process. The fact that it’s so damn easy just emphasizes the slight importance placed on children’s health versus the all-important free market.

David Knowles at Politics Daily:

This news sent Twitter users into punchline overdrive on Friday. Here are some of the best results.

“McDonald’s is recalling Shrek glasses,” tweeted gaucheboy. “Which means they contain something more poisonous than the food.

“McDonald’s has recalled Shrek glasses because they are ‘toxic,’ now all we need to do is convice DreamWorks that Shrek 4 is toxic, too.” wrote Kim_Kobayashi.

“BP will be putting those McD’s Cadmium-tainted Shrek glasses to good uses, scooping up oil on surface of ocean,” wrote dianagram.

The satirical news magazine The Onion, meanwhile, went for a more deadpan approach, tweeting, “McDonald’s recalls 12 million Shrek drinking glasses after realizing that they’re cheap, toxic pieces of crap.”

Neil Miller at Film School Rejects:

The question becomes: how will this effect the film’s performance? Aside from the perception that the movie is trying to kill your family, the situation does raise public awareness of the film.

Alright fine, that’s all nonsense. This situation has nothing to do with the movie itself. In fact, your kids may have more risk of damage from actually seeing the intensely subpar flick than from the cadmium, which is said to cause kidney, lung, intestinal and bone damage. Seeing Shrek Forever After could cause perceptive film quality syndrome, and that’s much worse.

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C. Gatti And Special Sauce

Discover Magazine:

A rare but potentially life-threatening tropical fungus is spreading through the Pacific Northwest, researchers have reported.

The culprit is a new strain of the Cryptococcus gatti fungus, and is known to have been lethal in 25 percent of the reported human infections. C. gatti usually only infects transplant and AIDS patients and people with otherwise compromised immune systems, but the new strain is genetically different, the researchers said. “This novel fungus is worrisome because it appears to be a threat to otherwise healthy people” [Reuters], says lead researcher Edmond Byrnes.

However, scientists aren’t sounding a public health alert because the death toll is still very small–in the United States, five of the 21 people who contracted the fungus in the have died.

Kathleen Doheny at WebMD:

We wouldn’t recommend that people change their habits in any way,” Julie Harris, PhD, MPH, a staff epidemiologist with the CDC, tells WebMD. “We wouldn’t recommend people stay indoors or don’t go hiking or don’t go outdoors.”

The fungus species triggering the infection is Cryptococcus gattii, which can cause pneumonia or meningitis. But the infection ”simply is not common enough for people to warrant changing behavior,” Harris says. “It’s still very rare. People should be concerned but not alarmed.”

At a news briefing Friday, Katrina Hedberg, MD, MPH, interim state epidemiologist for the Oregon Department of Health Services Public Health Division, told reporters that it’s also rare that people exposed to the fungus end up getting sick.

While the CDC wouldn’t specify the number of deaths, citing incomplete data, Hedberg says that ”of the 50-plus cases, around 10 of them have died.”

Twelve of those 50 cases, including three deaths, have been in the state of Washington, according to Nicola Marsden-Haug, MPH, an epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health, Shoreline.

Marcia Goldoft, MD, a medical epidemiologist with the department, urges people to keep the threat in perspective. “The benefits of outdoor activity and exercise far outweigh the risks of a rare disease such as C. gattii.”

Alice Park at Time Magazine:

Huh? So I should be very, very afraid — just not really?

To be fair, it was a scientist — Edmond Byrnes, a graduate student in microbiology and molecular genetics at Duke University — who triggered the fungus frenzy. His paper, published Thursday in PLoS Pathogens, reported that detailed genetic analyses had revealed that two strains of C. gattii, a fungus that typically lives in trees and soil, had become hypervirulent. Byrnes’ paper looked at six deaths and 15 other infections in people, and 21 cases in animals that had occurred in the U.S. between 2005 and 2009.

Combine the words “hypervirulent” and “infection” in the age of SARS, bird flu and H1N1, and it’s a news story. (See how not to get the H1N1 flu.)

But here’s what you really need to know: “These infections are still rare, and from an overall health perspective, I don’t think anyone should be concerned, but should just be aware that it is increasing geographically and incidence-wise in [the Pacific Northwest],” says Byrnes. “For the average person, I don’t think this is anything to be too worried about.”

C. gatti is normally found in tropical climates in South America, Australia and Papua New Guinea. In these endemic regions, it tends to favor eucalyptus trees and, according to Julie Harris, an epidemiologist in the mycotic diseases branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of infection among people are relatively low.

The fungus was somehow carried from the southern hemisphere to North America, where it was found on Vancouver Island in 1999. (It was rare — at its peak, between 2002 and 2005, there were 36 cases per million population per year in the region reported to health officials.) One of the new strains of highly virulent C. gattii was determined to have originated on Vancouver Island; the other is thought to have emerged in Oregon, possibly from a strain that had spread south from British Columbia. In lab animals, Byrnes reports, these two strains are 100% lethal, causing death within three weeks. That’s reason for concern from a scientific standpoint, he says, since other known strains of the fungus are not as deadly. But, again, the fungus is so rare in the real-world, that from a public-health perspective, there’s no need for alarm.

One of the lingering questions the researchers were left with was whether the fungus is becoming more virulent as it spreads. The answer hinges in part on how the fungi reproduce (since fungi can do it in a number of ways). It looks as if the new strains of C. gattii are getting it on with opposite sex and same sex partners. These matings appear to result in spores that are even more deadly to living creatures.

If C. gattii keeps having sex and spreading, its next victims will mostly likely be in Northern California, where the weather is very similar to Oregon. It’s unlikely to expand eastward, due to the freezing winters.

Rod Dreher:

This stuff sounds horrible. What’s particularly troubling is that the fungus appears to have very recently mutated. If you go to the Oregon state government health page on C. gattii, it says that the mortality rate for the stuff is only five percent. The just-released study, though, finds the mortality rate has shot up to 25 percent. Excerpt:

The mutation “is causing major illness in the region, and it’s different from what’s causing disease on Vancouver Island,” says Christina Hull, PhD, an assistant professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, in Madison. “It supports the idea that this is a recent change in the organism,” she adds. “That’s a little more unnerving than what people had thought before.”

Scientists don’t know what risk factors there are for the disease. The good news, though, is that it’s unlikely to travel outside the region, and even then its virulence will likely decline over time.

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Reuters Isn’t The Only Organization Pulling Stories

Monica Potts at Tapped:

The Lancet has finally, finally withdrawn a long-discredited study linking autism to vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella.

The ethical problems behind the research have long been noted, and other studies have failed to repeat the findings. But the retraction comes too late to stop the 1998 study from doing damage. Money is diverted to studying vaccines rather than finding the real causes of and solutions to autism, and parents are refusing to get their children vaccinated. That’s led to an increase in diseases we know definitely hurt children, like measles, in developed countries that had long seen them disappear.

Ronald Bailey at Reason:

Since its publication, study after study could find no such correlation between vaccination and the development of autism. The immediate reason for this long overdue retraction is that the U.K.’s General Medical Council just sanctioned lead researcher on that study, Canadian gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, for acting unethically. The retraction should end this harmful controversy, but I fear that the Wall Street Journal is right when it suggests:

… while the withdrawal supports the scientific evidence that vaccinations don’t cause autism, it isn’t likely to persuade advocacy groups who still believe in the link.

In fact, the anti-vaccine group SafeMinds has already jumped to the defense of Wakefield, declaring:

SafeMinds is very disappointed by the GMC’s [General Medical Council] findings  The false testimony and the ensuing GMC FTP hearing have had the effect of delaying necessary research into cause and treatment for autism, and dissuading scientists from pursuing research relating to vaccines as a cause of chronic disease.

Sigh.

Chris Mooney at Science Progress:

On a scientific level, the most severe undermining of Wakefield’s study came in the form of a 2004 analysis by the Institute of Medicine, one wing of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The IOM examined no less than 16 separate studies on the purported dangers of the MMR vaccine, in addition to Wakefield’s. The latter they found “uninformative with respect to causality”; overall, they concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and autism.”

Even prior to that, ten of Wakefield’s original coauthors (out of twelve in total) had backed away from the work in a 2004 letter to The Lancet. “We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient,” they wrote. “However, the possibility of such a link was raised and consequent events have had major implications for public health.”

Meanwhile, a series of investigative stories published in The Times of London unearthed Wakefield’s undisclosed ties to vaccine litigation in the U.K. The full Lancet retraction that occurred yesterday builds on all of these developments, including, most recently, an investigation into Wakefield by the U.K.’s General Medical Council which declared him “irresponsible” and questioned, among other matters, the risks imposed upon children in the original study.

Let’s pause for a moment here. We’re talking about a single, small study—on just 12 children—that stirred a mass anti-vaccine movement and a trend away from vaccination that threatens public health in some wealthy counties. Already, you should be wondering how it could be possible to build so much upon such a slender reed. But if you then consider the subsequent fate of the study, and the scandal that has attended it, a reasonable person would surely conclude that the original scare about the MMR vaccine and autism had no serious foundation whatsoever.

Here’s the thing, though. It seems obvious to all recent commentators—myself included—that the latest Wakefield news will have virtually no impact on Wakefield’s passionate followers, the anti-vaccine ideologues in the UK and United States who have long cheered him on, and will continue to do so. If anything, it will probably only make them still stronger in their convictions.

David Kirby at Huffington Post:

Wakefield’s critics can condemn, retract, decry and de-license all they want, but that does nothing to stop or alter the march of science, which has come a long way over the past 12 years, and especially in the last year or two. The evidence that autism is increasing at alarming rates, and that some thing (or things) in our environment is wreaking havoc on a vulnerable one-percent of all US children is now so irrefutable that, finally, the federal government is climbing aboard the environmental research bandwagon – way late, but better than never.

This long-overdue paradigm shift will leave many in the scientific community with some proverbial but nonetheless uncomfortable egg on their increasingly irrelevant faces: Those who have protested with shrill certainty that autism is almost purely genetic, and not environmental in nature, and therefore not really increasing at all, will hopefully recede from the debate.

And that begs a nagging question: If those people were dead wrong about environmental factors in autism, could they also be mistaken in their equally heated denials about a possible vaccine-autism link? More bluntly, why should we heed them any longer?

We need to examine a host of environmental factors (air, water, food, medicine, household products and social factors) and how they might interact with vulnerable genes to create the varying collection of symptoms we call “autism.” But these triggers almost have to be found in every town of every county of every state in the land – from Maine to Maui.

Are vaccines the only contributing factors to autism? Of course not. Other pharmaceutical products like thalidomide and valporic acid, as well as live mumps virus, have been associated with increased autism risk in prenatal exposures, so we already know that a variety of drugs and bugs can likely make a child autistic.

But, there are now at least six published legal or scientific cases of children regressing into ASD following vaccination – and many more will be revealed in due time.

There was the case of Hannah Poling, in federal vaccine court, in which the government conceded that Hannah’s autism was caused by vaccine-induced fever and overstimulation of the immune system that aggravated an asymptomatic and previously undetected dysfunction of her mitochondria. Hannah received nine vaccines in one day, including MMR.

Then there was the Bailey Banks case, in which the court ruled that Petitioners had proven that MMR had directly caused a brain inflammation illness called “acute disseminated encephalomyelitis” (ADEM) which, in turn, had caused PDD-NOS, an autism spectrum disorder, in Bailey.

And last September, a chart review of children with autism and mitochondrial disease, published in the Journal of Child Neurology, looked at 28 children with ASD and mitochondrial disease and found that 17 of them (60.7%) had gone through autistic regression, and 12 of the regressive cases had followed a fever. Among the 12 children who regressed after fever, a third (4) had fever associated with vaccination, just like Hannah Poling.

Wesley Smith at First Things:

I post this not to get into the vaccine controversy.  Rather, if the article is as deficient in veritas as the Lancet states, I wonder if the article was more an “advocacy” piece than a “science” study. As I have noted repeatedly before, the scientific paper has become a powerful method of promoting ideological/political agendas. That has to stop, because it not only distorts politics but undermines science itself.

Jonathan Adler

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner

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Don’t Panic Yet, The Cute Pig Will Protect Us

pig-01

Michael D. Shear and Rob Stein in WaPo:

President Obama has declared H1N1 swine flu a national emergency, clearing the way for his health chief to give hospitals wider leeway in how they handle a possible surge of new patients, administration officials said Saturday.

The president granted Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the power to lift some federal regulations for medical providers, including allowing hospitals to set up off-site facilities to increase the number of available beds and protect patients who are not infected.

Obama said in the declaration that the “rapid increase in illness . . . may overburden health-care resources.” White House officials played down the dramatic language, saying the president’s action did not stem from a new assessment of the dangers the flu poses to the public.

Instead, officials said the action provides greater flexibility for hospitals that may face a surge of new patients as the virus sweeps through their communities. The declaration allows Sebelius to waive certain requirements under Medicaire and Medicaid, privacy rules and other regulations.

James Joyner:

Some are terming this “fear-mongering” and hysteria. And it’s true that this is neither “epidemic” nor an “emergency” in any ordinary senses of those words.  But these are the magic words the president has to invoke in order to bypass the bureaucratic rules preventing faster dissemination of the vaccine.   This is something I would like to see changed because the headlines will in fact create some hysterical reactions.  But it’s the system Obama has to work within for now.

Jules Crittenden:

I got the news yesterday on the car radio while driving back from the supermarket with my son. He and his sisters got their swine flu shots at the pediatrician’s office the other day. But he’s been studying the Black Death in history class. (So proud. In parent-teacher conference last week, the teacher related that she asked the class, “Who knows what the Black Death is?” and his hand shot up. “It’s a disease that killed half of Europe in the Middle Ages!” Their minds are like little sponges.) Anyway, just yesterday morning, he and I had been discussing again how the Black Death caused massive social turmoil, how all of us alive today are plague survivors. I assured him swine flu isn’t anything like the Black Death.

So, about this swine flu state of emergency, I told him:

“There are two pieces to this. One is that it makes sense, if you have a serious situation, to let the hospitals and various public health authorites bypass certain rule and regulations so they can treat more people, and limit the spread.

Then, there’s something called CYA. It means, “cover your behind.” It’s political. When you have a disaster looming, you need to look like you’re doing something. With this emergency declaration in late October, and vaccinations way behind where they wanted it to be, some people might say the horse has already bolted.

You know that saying? Closing the barn door after the horse has bolted? It means making a big show of closing the barn door … after the horse has bolted.”

I told him swine flu is like Hurricane Katrina. It’s coming, and it’s going to do what it’s going to do. Big force of nature. Might be bad, might not be so bad. Dunno yet. But when it’s over, everyone is going to want to know whether the president did everything he could to limit the damage. Deservedly or not, Bush got whacked over that. People are already starting to talk about swine flu as Obama’s Katrina.

And, given the drastic shortfall and delay in vaccine preparation and distribution, it isn’t looking good for him if this thing gets bad. Especially since, as the White House flack notes above, “The H1N1 is moving rapidly, as expected.”

Although … I didn’t get into this with the kid … key words such as “federal government’s ambitious inoculation campaign” in that last Washington Post graph above are little clues that suggest there’s media scrutiny about political responsibility, and then there’s media scrutiny about political responsibility. And not all media scrutiny about political responsibility is equal.

SEK:

So, I read in the Times that Obama’s eliminated some bureaucratic hurdles by declaring the swine flu outbreak a national emergency. His decision makes sense to me, because if flu activity currently rivals its annual winter peak, this season’s peak could tower over Everest like some dread Olympus Mons. By signing the order now, Obama frees hospitals to prepare for the worst by, for example, “issu[ing] waivers expediting health care facilities’ ability to transfer patients to other locations.” Sounds logical, right? However:

“The declaration allows hospitals to apply to the Department of Health and Human Services for waivers from laws that in normal times are intended to protect patients’ privacy and to ensure that they are not discriminated against based on their source of payment for care, including Medicare, Medicaid and the states’ Children’s Health Insurance Program.

As a practical matter, officials said, the waiver could allow a hospital in danger of being overwhelmed with swine flu patients to remove them, and any emergency room visitors suspected of having the illness, to a location such a local armory to segregate such cases for treatment.”Do you know what this means? The government now has the power to segregate certain people (wink conservatives wink) on the basis of how they pay. Where do you think all those Cadillac owners are going to end up? In the hospitals, with doctors, in armories, because Obama knows he’ll need guns to keep conservatives away from theirs. The National Guard will be mobilized, then the “debate” over health-care reform will end as will America, as a permanent state of martial law will be declared on account of the continuing swine flu crisis.

This has been another edition of “Tomorrow’s Conservative Talking Points Today.” Gah.

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