Â - Ongoing news coverage of the radiation plume dispersing from a quake-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan may have many U.S. citizens reaching for potassium iodide just in case. The tablets can be taken to reduce the risk of radiation-related damage to the thyroid, and are readily available without a prescription. Not surprisingly, sales of potassium iodide have been on the upswing, especially on the West Coast among those worried aboutÂ exposireÂ to drifting radiation.
In response, the Professional Compounding Centers of America issued a news release this week containing words of caution: Inappropriate self-dosing with potassium iodide can end up doing more harm than good. The PCCA explains that potassium iodide is meant to be used in cases of direct exposure to nuclear radiation. Misuse can lead to iodine toxicity, with symptoms ranging from sore teeth and gums and a metallic taste in the mouth to negative effects on the thyroid itself. The bottom line: Talk to your pharmacist or doctor first before deciding you need to stock up on potassium iodide.
- Itching may not seem like a big deal, clinically speaking. But chronic itching is linked to many medical conditions and can be difficult for sufferers to live with. Now there’s a new scientific effort to learn more about itch. The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has opened what’s believed to be the world’s first Center for the Study of Itch. The center will bring together scientists and clinicians to study the mechanisms of itch and identify better treatments for it.
Itch has long been thought to be a lesser form of pain, but recent research has discovered that itch signals actually travel to the brain on a separate neurological path than pain. An itch-specific receptor, the gastrin-releasing peptide receptor, also has been identified. Researchers at the Center for the Study of Itch want to collect skin biopsies to develop a clinical research database and biobank that will help them identify genetic susceptibilities for chronic itch. They also plan to conduct clinical trials of potential therapies and treatments.
- Today marks World Tuberculosis Day and a global effort to focus attention on TB. There’s both good and bad news. Deaths from tuberculosis worldwide have declined by 35 percent since 1990 and the prevalence of TB has declined 14 percent from 1990 to 2009. New diagnostic technologies also have been developed for detecting multidrug-resistant TB.
But according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, tuberculosis continues to be a major public health threat, especially among the urban poor. There are more than 9 millionÂ new cases of tuberculosis worldwide annually and 2 million deaths.
Statistics from the American Lung Association are especially concerning: Worldwide, one-third of the population is currently infected with TB. Although rates in the U.S. are now the lowest on record, the decline has slowed, and drug-resistant TB is emerging as a serious challenge. Noteworthy research projects under way are aimed at better understanding the mechanisms of tuberculosis infection, identifying new therapies and developing a vaccine.
- Here’s some news for college students: The University of Minnesota has launched the Rothenberger Institute, an organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of college students by offering online courses developed by public health experts. The flexible content will give students several options for learning – audio, computer-based and print.
Course modules will address issues such as sleep, exercise, stress and alcohol use. The goal is to help this age group become better prepared to do well in school and makeÂ a successfulÂ transition into adulthood. The Rothenberger Institute is named after James Rothenberger III, who taught at the University of Minnesota and was a national expert on health issues, as well as an early champion of Internet-based learning.
Courses are currently offered at U of M campuses in the Twin Cities, Duluth and Crookston, as well as Minnesota State University at Moorhead, Vermillion Community College and Inver Hills Community College. The Rothenberger Institute also has begun working with high schools, where college-bound seniors can take the courses for college credit.
- Finally, a word about National Poison Prevention Week, which is being observed this week. More than 2 million poisonings, most of them accidental, are reported to poison control centers in the U.S. each year. More than 90 percent of them occur in the home, and the majority of non-fatal poisonings occur among children under age 6.
Prevention is the best strategy. Adults are urged to keep household cleaners, disinfectants, solvents and other toxic substances locked up and out of children’s reach.Â Don’t forget about cosmetics and medicines. Many children are poisoned each year by perfume, nail polish, soap and prescription and over-the-counter medications.