Administration: overdose antidote not good public health policy

Via new acquaintance Tom Levinson of the Inverse Square blog comes an all-too-familiar story of our “compassionate conservative” administration putting their own morality above proven public health programs:

Fact 1: public health officials around the country…are distributing rescue kits [containing Narcan, see below –TS] that save heroin users from overdoses. The kits cost $9.50, and they are credited with reversing 2,600 overdoses in 16 such local programs around the country. For context: NPR reports that “overdoses of heroin and opiates, such as Oxycontin, kill more drug users than AIDS, hepatitis or homicide.”

Great, right? Cheap kits, Narcan is easy to use (it can be given as a nasal spray), lives saved. What’s not to love? Well… (after the jump)
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Mail harmless bacteria, go to jail

Being a microbiologist can be a dangerous business. Some of us work out in the field, exposed to weather, animals, and pathogens of all different forms. Some do research in countries with unstable governments, collecting samples and tracking down infected individuals in the midst of strife, poverty, and warfare. Some remain in the lab, but share it with agents that can be handled only under high levels of containment, and may need special labs and permits just to do their research. We all realize our job contains some level of risk, and do what we can to minimize that.

However, as much as we try to protect ourselves against biological dangers, we can’t wall ourselves off from every form of risk, especially if it comes at us from unexpected places–like those who are supposed to keep the public safe. Since 9/11, the government has invested a huge amount of resources into research on pathogens that have the potential to be biological weapons (at the expense of basic research into other, more “mundane” pathogens), and scrutiny of all things microbiological has increased dramatically. This has caused scientists to get caught in the crosshairs, such as Thomas Butler, a microbiologist at Texas Tech who worked on Yersinia pestis (the bacterium that causes bubonic plague) among other organisms.

After initially being investigated for charges including bioterrorism (later dropped) following his report of missing bacterial vials, he was sentenced to 2 years in prison for a collection of other charges unrelated the original incident, producing a chilling effect upon the microbiology community: no one is safe from prosecution, and even a simple mistake can land you behind bars, stripped of your job and defending yourself with your retirement savings.

This isn’t the only case like this, either. Just last week, a University of Pittsburgh geneticist, Robert Ferrell, plead guilty to charges of failing to follow proper procedures in mailing samples, after being investigated initially for charges related to bioterrorism that were dropped (similar to the Butler case), and another professor awaits trial; more after the jump.
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World Rabies Day

September 8th was world rabies day. In the United States, this was celebrated with the news that the canine rabies strain appears to be eliminated from this country. In the U.S., rabies in both humans and domestic animals remains rare, though the virus remains endemic in several species of wildlife (especially raccoons, skunks, and bats). However, worldwide, rabies remains a significant public health problem, causing an estimated 50-60,000 deaths per year worldwide–one death every ten minutes. More after the jump…
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YearlyKos videos are up!

I’ve not mentioned this yet because I hadn’t had a chance to see it myself, but C-SPAN did broadcast this year’s YearlyKos Science Panel. You can see Chris’s talk on hurricanes and global warming here; Ed’s talk on fighting creationism by running for school board here, and Sean’s talk on dark energy and dark matter over yonder. I have the videos of the final parts–the Q&A session–after the jump.
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Safe haven laws, hidden pregnancies, and the tragedy of Ashley Truitt

My office in the epidemiology department is located within the hospital. Therefore, every day when I walk into work, I pass by a sign like the one on the left. Like most states, Iowa has a safe haven law–a law that allows parents to leave a newborn infant at a designated site, no questions asked, without any threat of prosecution. These sorts of laws were developed in response to cases where babies had been left on doorsteps, or thrown in trash dumpsters, etc. Safe Haven laws, in theory, should prevent those kinds of abuses–the parents abdicate responsibility for the infant, who can then be adopted by a caring family. In theory, everyone should win.

In practice, however, it’s sometimes a different story. Some argue that these laws haven’t helped to reduce the number of babies that are “dumpstered,” and that babies in some states (depending on the particular laws) are simply placed in limbo, unadoptable because of lack of information on both birth parents. In other cases, the very people who may be most at risk are the ones unaware of such laws. For example, at the Iowa site I linked above, they have information for hospitals, parents, etc., but tragically, under “Community Education Information,” it says, “materials are still being developed.” A recent story notes that in Iowa, there’s just no money to publicize these safe havens, and that since 2001, 8 babies have been dropped off, while 4 have died after being abandoned unsafely. Earlier this week, this hit me where I live, as a teenager from my little Iowa town is accused of hiding her pregnancy and killing her newborn infant while on vacation in Florida. More below…
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Waxing indignant: pointless?

In the comments to the XDR-TB update post, Scott suggested that bloggers were putting too much emphasis on whether the TB patient was stupid/arrogant/self-centered/whatever, and later that “waxing indignant is pointless.” I started this as a response to those comments, but thought instead it might be an interesting conversation–is it pointless? Certainly indignation about this guy’s behavior won’t change what’s happened. Indignation about creationists’ abuse of science won’t make them stop. Does it have a point? My thoughts on it below the fold.
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XDR-TB travels around the globe, update: broader implications of one man’s jaunt

I blogged earlier about the Georgia man who globe-trotted while infected with XDR-TB. I wrote that post late Tuesday evening, and since then, a number of other details about his case have come to light–and they’re not encouraging. In fact, this serves as a nice example of a convergence of a number of areas I’ve written about before–obviously, the evolution of antibiotic resistance and the terrible position it leaves us in, the politics and policies of quarantine/isolation (and how they’d be enforced), and the global spread of infectious disease, so I figured this would warrant another post on the topic.

First, the “compelling personal reason” he had for traveling that was mentioned in early articles was this: that he he was getting married in Greece and then honeymooning in various stops around Europe. Now, I’m probably just unsentimental and maybe a bit too practical at times, but it seems to be a really poor idea to potentially expose not only your future wife (who apparently was tested in January and negative for TB) but also your relatives and other loved ones to a highly deadly bacterium on what’s supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life. I mean, sure, you want people to remember your wedding, but not because they contracted tuberculosis there.

That’s only the beginning of the dumbassery, unfortunately–it gets worse. More after the jump.
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