How are you handling the quarantine? We want to hear your Covid-19 Story!

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed the United States in a position that is both surreal and dangerous. Americans are being asked to stay indoors and quarantine themselves for the good of their fellow citizens and their loved ones. There has been volatile push-back to the quarantine from protest in Michigan to blatant disregard in some southern states.

Perhaps telling people they should care for their profits and political party lines more than the health of their fellow citizens has led to this resistance to the quarantine; we will explore how policy and public opinion can affect health care outcomes in an upcoming article.

Fortunately, there are many individuals who are staying focused on the larger picture, by staying inside and practicing social distancing. Which brings me to my point today in reaching out to you all, what are some of the ways that you are dealing with the quarantine?  I want to read your responses, tell me your Covid-19 story! 

Additionally we would like to extend a gracious thank you to the health-care workers fighting this virus! We at the Science Lion team are grateful for your strength and efforts. We would also like to acknowledge that being able to quarantine is indeed a privilege and to those workers who are not able to quarantine at this time due to financial strain and other complications, please stay healthy and practice social distancing when possible.  We can make it through this together!

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Burning Lungs- L.A. to India

A 2019 study from 2000-2018 found that individuals in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, just by breathing the air in their city, had lung damage in the form of emphysema. Emphysema is a type of lung damage derived from smoking cigarettes, yet these individuals are afflicted merely by breathing the air in their city.

According to the NIH, air pollution is a mixture of natural and man-made substances in the air we breathe. This form of pollution involves exposure to fossil fuel particulates, noxious fumes and airborne dust; other examples include household cleaners, building materials, smoking and ground level ozone, also known as smog. The World Health Organization has stated that air pollution kills approximately seven million people worldwide every year. With the rise of our globalized economy and rapidly increasing population, air pollution will become an issue of intense focus in the coming years.

Los Angeles, according to the American Lung Association has the worst smog within the United States. In 2018 there were 87 straight days of air quality that violated federal standards. In the 20 years that the American Lung Association has recorded smog, LA rests at the top of the list of smoggiest U.S. cities, 19 years out of 20. Poor air quality in LA has been a problem since, at the very latest, 1943. The cars of that time period had very poor emissions regulations and constantly spewed noxious fumes that when heated by the sun’s rays became smog. The earth is warming, and with that rise in heat this will accelerate the pace of ozone (smog) formation.  Los Angeles is a desert city and as officials look to the future, we know that between rising temperatures and populations, the city of angels will have to make serious changes to remove the title “Smoggiest city in the United States”.

Smog over LA- Image by traveljunction.com

When we look from a global perspective, India stands breathless and suffocating. The air pollution in Delhi is primarily particle pollution, a cocktail of small and microscopic solids that when inhaled can damage the respiratory system. The PM2.5 particles (smaller than 2.5 microns) are of grave concern due to their ability to penetrate deeply and cause the aforementioned damage to the lungs. In 2018, the World Health Organization showed that 11 out of the 12 cities with the most PM2.5 particle pollution are in India. In 2019, a public health emergency was declared in Delhi, leading the delay and cancellation of flights due to poor visibility and school closures. The air pollution in 2019 reached levels near the equivalent of smoking 45 to 50 cigarettes a day.

Delhi, India- McKay Savage

Has the United States air quality improved since 1980? Yes it has. However, “Will the current regulations be enough to stem the tide of a growing population and newly industrialized economies” is a question that remains contested. In this article I only highlighted two regions that are experiencing difficulties with air pollution, but they are hardly alone – China, New York, Pittsburgh, Bangladesh, Kuwait. This is a global problem that will require systemic and serious regulation in order to make progress. Our air is a precious resource and it needs to be protected so that all people can breathe easily and freely.

Featured Gif Source: https://childeducationbodysystems.weebly.com/respiratory-system.html

Delhi India Image Source: McKay Savage from London, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

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Science Lion Byte: Vaping Illness Outbreak Update – Jan. 31, 2020

***Science Lion Media will pause coverage on the vaping outbreak as the public health issue has plateaued and appears to be reaching a resolution. Thank you for heeding the advice of health professionals and communicators to protect yourselves and others from unnecessary harm***

Please refer to our previous publication for a comprehensive background of the vaping illness outbreak in the United States.

Here is a summary of the latest vaping-related lung illness information released by the CDC, as of January 21, 2019 at 1pm EST:

  • The CDC, as of December 4, 2019, has elected to only report hospitalized EVALI cases and related-deaths, regardless of hospitalization status. Non-hospitalized cases have been removed from previously reported case counts.                     
  • The number of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) cases has been reported to reach 2,711 nationwide. With California, Illinois, and Texas leading the nation in confirmed EVALI cases.
  • EVALI cases have now been reported in all 50 states of the United States, after Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services reported their first case of vaping-related lung injury on December 3, 2019. The District of Columbia (D.C.), Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands have reported cases, as well.
  • There have now been 60 confirmed deaths related to EVALI, with Texas reporting the youngest EVALI-related death of a 15 year-old.
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As of the most recent data collected from January 14, 2019, EVALI patient statistics are as follows:

  • Regarding hospitalization status, 95% of EVALI patients have been hospitalized; 5% have not.
  • 66% of patients are reported to be male.
  • The median age of patients is 24 years old, with an age range between 13 and 85 years old.
  • The median age of the deceased patients is 51 years old, with an age range between 15 and 75 years old.
  • Breakdown of patients by age group:
    15% of patients were under 18 years old
    37% were 18 to 24 years old
    24% were 25 to 34 years old
    24% were 35 years or older

 

 

The most complete information of patient product use, 3 months prior to symptom onset, reflects the following:

  • 82% reported using THC-containing products; 33% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products.
  • 57% reported using nicotine-containing products; 14% reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.
  • Younger EVALI patients (13-17 years of age) were significantly more likely to acquire THC-containing vape products only from informal sources (94%), versus 62% of older patients, 45 years of age and older.
  • Regarding nicotine-containing vape products, 42% of younger EVALI patients (13-17 years of age) acquired these products only from informal sources, versus 12% of older patients, 45 years of age and older.

Overall, 152 different THC-containing product brands were reported by EVALI patients, and of those products reported, *Dank Vapes was the most commonly reported product brand used by patients nationwide, although there are regional differences. This supports the premise that THC-containing products are heavily contributing to the EVALI outbreak, and that no one brand is solely responsible. Overall, these unregulated and off-branded products, in addition to their unconventional use, are suspected of undergirding the spread of this lung illness outbreak.

* Dank Vapes is a class of largely counterfeit THC-containing products of unknown origin.

 

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On January 2, 2020, the FDA implemented a partial ban on vaping in the US, focused on ceasing the manufacture of unauthorized flavors which may appeal to under-age individuals. Additionally, President Trump has signed into law an amendment which nationally raises the smoking age from 18 to 21 years old.

Looking beyond the United States, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has officially issued a ban on e-cigarettes, after the country reported its first confirmed EVALI case in a 16 year-old girl, on November 15, 2019.

The Philippines join roughly 30 other countries that have moved to issue a ban on e-cigarette products, including Brazil, India and Singapore. Indonesia is now strongly considering following suit of the Philippines by possibly issuing their own vaping ban to preempt the surfacing of EVALI cases in its country.

Canada is also experiencing an uptick in vaping cases with its 17th official EVALI case reported in the country, as of January 21, 2020.

 

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CDC Reports First U.S. Case of Human-to-Human Transmission of 2019 Novel (Wuhan) Coronavirus

On January 19, 2020, an initial reported outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus manifested in the city of Wuhan, the capital of the Hubei province of China. Unfortunately, upwards of ten thousand cases of infection have been reported, with the death toll eclipsing 200, as of January 30, 2020.

As fears began to swell regarding the potential global implications of the virus, on the afternoon of January 30, the director of the World Health Organization officially declared a global emergency for the spreading Coronavirus, which had now begun leaking through national borders, worldwide, as travelers returned from the Chinese outbreak epicenter.

Although the first case of Coronavirus infection in the United States occurred on January 21 in the state of Washington, around 12:30pm ET on January 30, the CDC reported the first United States case of human-to-human transmission of the virus in Chicago, Illinois. As of that day, there have been 6 confirmed cases of infection and 92 unconfirmed, as they await the results of their screening.

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Although, there is heightened anxiety at this time surrounding the potential implications of the spreading virus, there is no need for panic. Rather, take the precautions that you would normally apply to protecting yourself from the spread of germs, and keep your immune system in optimum shape by eating nutritious foods, while limiting (the best you can) exposure to stressful environmental conditions.

For more details about this first case of transmission and the most recent commentary on the virus, click the CDC link below. Stay tuned for the latest information from Science Lion Media, as we monitor the progression of the global Coronavirus outbreak.

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/p0130-coronavirus-spread.html

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Sodium Intake and Your Health: A Tale of Two Standards

When it comes to making food pleasurable to the taste buds, adding salt to a cuisine definitely helps make that a reality. Salt has been known not just as a food additive for flavor enhancement, but for thousands of years, it has also been used as a preservative to extend the shelf-life of food.

However, as with many things in western society, the use of salt has become excessive. Simultaneously, the prevalence of obesity has also been on the rise along with the associated negative health consequences, such as, diabetes, renal (kidney) disease, and cardiovascular disease. For all of these outcomes, in one way or another, the common denominator is hypertension (high blood pressure), so controlling this risk-factor is paramount in maintaining good long-term health.

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Clinicians advise that for good cardiovascular health, we maintain a resting blood pressure reading of 120/80 or less. So what does that readout actually mean? The top number, 120, represents the pressure that blood vessels are subjected to when the heart pumps, and the bottom number, 80, represents the pressure on the blood vessels when the heart is at rest.

Important blood pressure levels to consider
Hypertension: 140/90 and above
Prehypertension: 121-139/81-89
Normal: 120/80 and below

A primary factor that influences blood pressure is sodium, and the most common form of sodium consumption is salt. Although there is a common misconception that the two substances are synonymous, on a molecular level, salt in the form of NaCl (sodium chloride) is 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride, so salt is not purely sodium.

Without getting too detailed with the molecular chemistry of NaCl (sodium chloride), this is a simplified representation of the salt molecule at an atomic level.

Taking this into consideration, it is clear that tracking sodium intake is prudent to the regulation of blood pressure. Specific populations are more susceptible to the impacts of excessive sodium intake, such as adult populations over 50 years old, individuals with a history of cardiovascular complications, and individuals of African descent.

To help the general population gauge how much sodium they should be consuming, the USDA has established guidelines for daily sodium intake, with 2300mg being the upper limit for the general population, and 1500mg for more salt-sensitive groups.

However, just because there are guidelines in place, does not mean that we actually abide by them. Unfortunately, it is estimated that about 90 percent of Americans are ingesting too much sodium, and according to the CDC, the average American consumes more than 3400mg of sodium per day! It’s no wonder that with the over-indulgence of this element, cardiovascular-related disorders and diseases are the leading cause of death, not just in the United States, but also in the world!

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So how are we consuming so much sodium? I mean, we’re talking thousands of milligrams per day, so is it that hard to stay within the suggested limits? The figure below, courtesy of the CDC, may give you an idea of how quickly your sodium intake can add up.

Breads, canned goods, processed foods, fast foods, and packaged snack foods contain some of the highest levels of sodium that can be potentially introduced into our diets, so avoiding these where possible is strongly advised when striving to follow a low-sodium regimen.

Now, if we go back to the sodium intake guidelines we notice that in the context of ethnic groups, only African-descended people are advised to shoot for the lower sodium limit, which begs the question, “Why?”

There is no one over-arching smoking gun, but one link that has been made pertains to the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) gene, which manifests itself in multiple variants/forms. This ACE gene is responsible for inducing the release of a hormone called angiotensin, which regulates the level of constriction of the blood vessels and, by proxy, regulates blood pressure.

Some of these ACE variants which exist in people of African-descent are more sensitive to sodium, and exposure to certain levels of this element can result in an over-constriction of the blood vessels, leading to an elevated systolic blood pressure.

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However, with this in mind, African-descended people who may be nutrition facts-conscious and track their sodium consumption may need to be wary of another revelation: The nutrition facts label assumes that your daily limit of sodium is capped at the general population’s recommendation of 2300mg.

Oops.

So instead of going by the percent of daily value, people of African descent and other susceptible groups need to pay attention to the number of milligrams of sodium, and align it with their 1500mg limit.

Some of these group-specific nuances have a history of being overlooked or ignored, as we have highlighted in previous publications regarding dairy consumption, or even calcium and vitamin D daily recommendations.

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As is typical with science, opposite findings have been revealed when tipping the scale to the other extreme of very little sodium consumption. There are also instances where lower sodium intake may not show benefits to cardiovascular health, and some of these findings are presumptively gathered and disseminated as a devil’s advocate rebuttal to the promotion of a diet lower in sodium.

However, what is often overlooked is that the studies supporting this rebuttal are composed of majority or entirely Caucasian participants; this means that we don’t really know if these claims hold the same weight for African descendants, Hispanics, Asians, or any other non-Caucasian groups (remember those ethnic group nuances we mentioned earlier?). According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 500mg of sodium is the minimum requirement for physiological health (healthy bodily function). In this day and age, barring an extreme circumstance, it is pretty difficult to not eclipse that threshold.

Claims of a low sodium diet not being beneficial may only be relegated to individuals with a history of congestive heart failure, or in very extreme instances of voluntary (diet) or involuntary (starvation) sodium restriction. These claims should not be irresponsibly dispersed as this may mislead and misinform the readers. Any study findings that have shown a lack of benefit from lower sodium intake (within physiologically relevant levels, such as 1000mg-2000mg) have been relegated to almost exclusively Caucasian participants.

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So, besides the typical recommendations of avoiding sodium-laden foods or suppressing the urge to add excess salt when cooking (and at the dinner table), are there any other ways to help individuals of African descent reduce sodium intake? Definitely!

  • Consume more potassium-rich foods. Potassium and sodium are fierce competitors for some of the same targets, so the blood pressure-raising effects of sodium can be offset by the presence of this element. Bananas, orange juice, sweet potatoes, and spinach are excellent sources of potassium, for example.
  • Consider using a proportion of potassium chloride with traditional sodium chloride salt. Some food companies have done this, like Smartfoods, with their bagged popcorn.
  • Transition to a more contemporary salt alternative, such as SODA-LO with their salt microspheres. Simply put, it is your traditional sodium chloride salt, but with a twist; it’s engineered as hollow spheres instead of dense flakes or granules, so the density of salt (and concentration of sodium) is up to 50% less! This Tate & Lyle’s ingredient has garnered recognition for its innovative goal of helping reduce our sodium intake, while apparently retaining that same magnificent salty taste (*wink wink*). Hopefully, this product can be approved for adoption worldwide, if it hasn’t already.
  • Make sure to consult your primary care physician or personal dietician for guidance in implementing the aforementioned suggestions, as well as other alternatives I haven’t mentioned here.

With the daily grind of work, family, and recreation, it can be challenging to plan and execute your goals of reducing sodium intake. Meal planning and cooking take time, I get it. But believe me, it’s worth the effort. Not only will your body thank you for it, but so will your loved ones; not just for sticking around, but for maintaining a higher quality of life while you’re still here.

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Science Lion Byte: Vaping Illness Outbreak Update – Jan. 9, 2020

Please refer to our previous publication for a comprehensive background of the vaping illness outbreak in the United States.

Here is a summary of the latest vaping-related lung illness data released by the CDC, as of January 9, 2019 at 1pm EST:

  • The CDC, as of December 4, 2019, has elected to only report hospitalized EVALI cases and related-deaths, regardless of hospitalization status. Non-hospitalized cases have been removed from previously reported case counts.                     
  • The number of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) cases has been reported to reach 2,602 nationwide. With California, Illinois, and Texas leading the nation in confirmed EVALI cases.
  • EVALI cases have now been reported in all 50 states of the United States, after Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services reported their first case of vaping-related lung injury on December 3, 2019. The District of Columbia (D.C.), Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands have reported cases, as well.
  • There have now been 57 confirmed deaths related to EVALI. Among states reporting the most EVALI-related deaths are Illinois (5), Indiana (5), and California (4), with Texas reporting the youngest EVALI-related death of a 15 year-old, today.
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As of the most recent data collected from December 3, 2019, EVALI patient statistics are as follows:

  • Regarding hospitalization status, 95% of EVALI patients have been hospitalized; 5% have not.
  • 67% of patients are reported to be male.
  • Breakdown of patients by age group:
    16% of patients were under 18 years old
    38% were 18 to 24 years old
    24% were 25 to 34 years old
    23% were 35 years or older

 

 

The most complete information of patient product use, 3 months prior to symptom onset, reflects the following:

  • 80% reported using THC-containing products; 35% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products.
  • 54% reported using nicotine-containing products; 13% reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.
  • 40% reported both THC- and nicotine-containing product use.
  • 5% reported no THC- or nicotine-containing product use.

Overall, 152 different THC-containing product brands were reported by EVALI patients, and of those products reported, *Dank Vapes was the most commonly reported product brand used by patients nationwide, although there are regional differences. This supports the premise that THC-containing products are heavily contributing to the EVALI outbreak, and that no one brand is solely responsible. Overall, these unregulated and off-branded products, in addition to their unconventional use, are suspected of undergirding the spread of this lung illness outbreak.

* Dank Vapes is a class of largely counterfeit THC-containing products of unknown origin.

 

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On January 2, 2020, the FDA implemented a partial ban on vaping in the US, focused on ceasing the manufacture of unauthorized flavors which may appeal to under-age individuals. Additionally, President Trump has signed into law an amendment which nationally raises the smoking age from 18 to 21 years old.

Looking beyond the United States, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has officially issued a ban on e-cigarettes, after the country reported its first confirmed EVALI case in a 16 year-old girl, on November 15, 2019.

The Philippines join roughly 30 other countries that have moved to issue a ban on e-cigarette products, including Brazil, India and Singapore. Indonesia is now strongly considering following suit of the Philippines by possibly issuing their own vaping ban to preempt the surfacing of EVALI cases in its country.

Canada is also experiencing an uptick in vaping cases with its 15th official EVALI case reported in the country, as of January 2, 2020.

Take care and stay tuned for the next Science Lion Byte!

 

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Science Lion Byte: Vaping Illness Outbreak Update – Dec. 13, 2019

Please refer to our previous publication for a comprehensive background of the vaping illness outbreak in the United States.

Here is a summary of the latest vaping-related lung illness data released by the CDC, as of December 12, 2019 at 1pm EST:

  • As of December 4, 2019, CDC will only report hospitalized EVALI cases and EVALI deaths regardless of hospitalization status.                     
  • The number of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) cases has been reported to reach 2,409 nationwide, rising from 2,291 last week. California, Illinois, and Texas lead the nation in confirmed EVALI cases.
  • EVALI cases have now been reported in all 50 states of the United States, after Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services reported their first case of vaping-related lung injury on December 3, 2019. The District of Columbia (D.C.), Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands have reported cases, as well.
  • There have now been 52 confirmed deaths related to EVALI, rising from 48 last week. States reporting the most EVALI-related deaths are Illinois (5), Indiana (5), and California (4).
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As of December 3, 2019, EVALI patient statistics are as follows:

  • Regarding hospitalization status, 95% of EVALI patients have been hospitalized; 5% have not.
  • 67% of patients are reported to be male.
  • Breakdown of patients by age group:
    16% of patients were under 18 years old
    38% were 18 to 24 years old
    24% were 25 to 34 years old
    23% were 35 years or older

 

 

The most complete information of patient product use, 3 months prior to symptom onset, reflects the following:

  • 82% reported using THC-containing products; 35% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products.
  • 62% reported using nicotine-containing products; 13% reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.
  • 48% reported both THC- and nicotine-containing product use.
  • 4% reported no THC- or nicotine-containing product use.

Overall, 152 different THC-containing product brands were reported by EVALI patients, and of those products reported, *Dank Vapes was the most commonly reported product brand used by patients nationwide, although there are regional differences. This supports the premise that THC-containing products are heavily contributing to the EVALI outbreak, and that no one brand is solely responsible.

* Dank Vapes is a class of largely counterfeit THC-containing products of unknown origin.

 

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Looking beyond the United States, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has officially issued a ban on e-cigarettes, after the country reported its first confirmed EVALI case in a 16 year-old girl, on November 15, 2019.

The Philippines join roughly 30 other countries that have moved to issue a ban on e-cigarette products, including Brazil, India and Singapore. Indonesia is now strongly considering following suit of the Philippines by possibly issuing their own vaping ban to preempt the surfacing of EVALI cases in its country. President Trump of the United States is still contemplating an executive order to ban e-cigarettes; in particular, flavored e-cigarette products. In the meantime, a vaping bill which is currently being mulled over in congress, would strengthen restrictions against tobacco sales to youths and ban e-cigarette flavorings; this bill will be voted on early next year.

Canada is also experiencing an uptick in vaping cases with its 14th official EVALI case reported in the country, as of December 10, 2019.

Take care and stay tuned for the next Science Lion Byte!

 

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Science Lion Byte: Vaping Illness Outbreak Update – Dec. 6, 2019

Please refer to our previous publication for a comprehensive background of the vaping illness outbreak in the United States.

Here is a summary of the latest vaping-related lung illness data released by the CDC, as of December 5, 2019 at 1pm EST:

  • As of December 4, 2019, CDC will only report hospitalized EVALI cases and EVALI deaths regardless of hospitalization status. As a result, the CDC removed 175 non-hospitalized cases from previously reported national cases.                                                                   
  • The number of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) cases has been reported to reach 2,291 nationwide, rising from 2,116 last week. California, Illinois, and Texas lead the nation in confirmed EVALI cases.
  • EVALI cases have now been reported in all 50 states of the United States, after Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services reported their first case of vaping-related lung injury on December 3, 2019. The District of Columbia (D.C.), Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands have reported cases, as well.
  • There have now been 48 confirmed deaths related to EVALI, rising from 47 last week. States reporting the most EVALI-related deaths are Illinois (5), California (4), and Indiana (4).
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As of the most recent data set, EVALI patient statistics are as follows:

  • Regarding hospitalization status, 95% of EVALI patients have been hospitalized; 5% have not.
  • 68% of patients are reported to be male.
  • Breakdown of patients by age group:
    15% of patients were under 18 years old
    38% were 18 to 24 years old
    24% were 25 to 34 years old
    23% were 35 years or older

 

 

The most complete information of patient product use, 3 months prior to symptom onset, reflects the following:

  • 83% reported using THC-containing products; 35% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products.
  • 61% reported using nicotine-containing products; 13% reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.
  • 48% reported both THC- and nicotine-containing product use.
  • 4% reported no THC- or nicotine-containing product use.

 

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Looking beyond the United States, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has officially issued a ban on e-cigarettes, after the country reported its first confirmed EVALI case in a 16 year-old girl, on November 15, 2019.

The Philippines join roughly 30 other countries that have moved to issue a ban on e-cigarette products, including Brazil, India and Singapore. Indonesia is now strongly considering following suit of the Philippines by possibly issuing their own vaping ban to preempt the surfacing of EVALI cases in its country. President Trump of the United States is still contemplating an executive order to ban e-cigarettes; in particular, flavored e-cigarette products.

Canada has also reported that they now have 13 official EVALI cases in its country with fears of more cases popping up in the future.

Take care and stay tuned for the next Science Lion Byte!

 

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Science Lion Featured Guest: Raven Hardy and Sickle Cell

Science Lion recently had the pleasure of having a PhD candidate, Raven Hardy, drop by to speak with us about her upcoming event for sickle cell advocacy. To preface awareness of this event and the cause behind it, she also shed some light on her journey through graduate school, in addition to how she became interested in sickle cell research.

Raven is a neuroscience PhD candidate at Emory University, working in the lab of Dr. Hyacinth, which is part of the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. In particular, she looks at the profile of inflammation in sickle cell patients, and the impact that it may have on brain structure, and subsequently on cognitive deficiencies (dysfunction of the brain) and cell proliferation (cell division and growth).

Upon making these assessments, she observes how these effects track with age, from childhood to adulthood; these alterations of the brain appear to be culprits of the resulting strokes and neurological disorders that may manifest in sickle cell patients.

All of which are done in a mouse model that is humanized or genetically altered to mimic the expression of relevant human proteins in the brain. The purpose of humanizing in this case is to resemble as closely as possible what happens in a human brain, without having to use one.

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But how did Raven get here, in the first place, to do this kind of research? Many times, people draw inspiration and direction in life from tragedy, and this case stands true for Raven, as well. During her senior year of undergraduate studies, Raven’s sister, who herself lived with sickle cell, passed away at the age of 26 from brain death, extending from complications due to a preceding sickle cell crisis.  After managing to overcome that great loss and obtaining her degree, she began her unconventional path through graduate school.

Although she had a passion to learn more about sickle cell and its effects from a research standpoint, she initially entered a PhD program at Scripps Research Institute studying brain-related microorganisms called prions. She later transferred to Emory University, switching gears in her research, and focusing on brain imaging as it related to nutrition in predominately African American communities. However, her journey did not stop there.

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“Unfortunately, I had to leave that lab”, Raven reflected with a chuckle. “And as it would so have, I was able to join a lab that did sickle cell research, so I actually think that my path took a complete circle to get me right where I wanted to be.”

That lab would be her current research home with Dr. Hyacinth. “But I’m happy to be where I am”, she remarked with a smile on her face. “I feel as though when you’re meant to be somewhere you’ll end up there, and I think this is where I’m meant to be.”

So what is sickle cell disease? Sickle cell is a genetic blood disorder that can manifest itself if two parents carry the sickle cell trait. Within the context of the disease, red blood cells possess a “sickle-like” shape, inducing pain and inflammation – a response of immune cells – which can result in a “crisis event.” Unfortunately, these crisis events can lead to adverse outcomes such as stroke, or even death.

Sickle Cell Punnett Square
Punnett Square: This type of diagram outlines the possible combinations of alleles passed down from parents (alleles are variable forms of a given gene). Here we show what allele combinations correspond with which resulting phenotype (phenotype is the outward expression of genes – in other words, what we see!).

Bridging the conventional knowledge of the disease with what she is researching now in the neuroscience realm, Raven informs us that individuals with sickle cell can have high levels of behavioral and cognitive deficits. “So as far as blood is concerned, morbidities may stem from high levels of inflammation that induce the crisis (event) , and this inflammatory crisis may occur in the brain leading to different forms of brain damage.”

In addition to the amazing and intriguing research that she conducts in the lab, Raven really has a passion to advocate for closing the racial disparity gaps within health care, and of course in raising awareness of sickle cell disease, especially as it disproportionately impacts people of African descent.

“There is a lot of research and support for children with sickle cell, but when you reach adulthood and require a continuum of care, unfortunately it is not to the level where it should be”, Raven contends. “So, definitely there should be more physicians that are able to treat and manage individuals with sickle cell in crisis, and in general health.”

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Speaking of her endeavors in public health advocacy, this leads us to her current task of raising awareness of sickle cell in her local community by holding a “sickle cell gala” on her birthday, in honor of her late sister. The Dec. 6 art gala event includes a classy dinner at the Miller-Ward Alumni House in Atlanta, GA, and offers a social opportunity to network in a nurturing environment with other participating individuals. All proceeds toward the event will go to sickle cell causes.

If you would like to follow in Science Lion Media’s footsteps and donate to the cause of furthering sickle cell research and bettering the relevant public health policy, please visit her GoFundMe page. This way, she can allocate the funds to the most reputable organizations for maximum community impact. If you are interested in attending her art gala event, please reach out to Raven at blackbyrd1206@gmail.com for any remaining seats.

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Be sure to check back soon for the uploaded, full podcast interview with Raven as the Science Lion Media team chopped it up with this outstanding young lady, who has personified perseverance in the face of an unconventional road to her PhD.

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Science Lion Byte: Vaping Illness Outbreak Update – Nov. 21, 2019

Please refer to our previous publication for a comprehensive background of the vaping illness outbreak in the United States.

Here is a summary of the latest vaping-related lung illness data released by the CDC, as of November 21, 2019 at 1pm EST:

  • The number of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) cases has been reported to reach 2,290 nationwide, rising from 2,172 last week. California, Illinois, and Texas lead the nation in confirmed EVALI cases.
  • EVALI cases have now been reported in all of the United States, with the exception of Alaska. The District of Columbia (D.C.), Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands have reported cases, as well.
  • There have now been 47 confirmed deaths related to EVALI, rising from 42 last week. States reporting the most EVALI-related deaths are Illinois (5), California (4), and Indiana (4).
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As of the most recent data set, EVALI patient statistics are as follows:

  • Regarding hospitalization status, 95% of EVALI patients have been hospitalized; 5% have not.
  • 68% of patients are reported to be male.
  • Breakdown of patients by age group:
    15% of patients were under 18 years old
    38% were 18 to 24 years old
    24% were 25 to 34 years old
    23% were 35 years or older

The most complete information of patient product use, 3 months prior to symptom onset, reflects the following:

  • 83% reported using THC-containing products; 35% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products.
  • 61% reported using nicotine-containing products; 13% reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.
  • 48% reported both THC- and nicotine-containing product use.
  • 4% reported no THC- or nicotine-containing product use.

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Looking beyond the United States, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines plans to issue an official ban on e-cigarettes, after the country reported its first confirmed EVALI case in a 16 year-old girl, on November 15, 2019.

The Philippines would join roughly 30 other countries that have moved to issue a ban on e-cigarette products, including Brazil, India and Singapore. President Trump of the United States is still contemplating an executive order to ban e-cigarettes; in particular, flavored e-cigarette products.

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the CDC will not report new numbers next week, but expect an update around December 5.

Take care and stay tuned for the next Science Lion Byte!

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