medicine

Baby Possibly Cured of HIV

In a medical first for an infant, the Mississippi toddler was born in July 2010 infected with HIV, treated within 30 hours of delivery with aggressive HIV therapy, which continued for 18 months. She is now considered cured of her infection, a team of researchers led by Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said in a news conference at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta on Sunday.

“From a clinical perspective, this means that if you can get an infected baby on to antiretroviral drugs immediately after delivery, it’s going to be possible to prevent or reverse the infection—essentially cure the baby,” said Dr. Steven Deeks, an HIV/AIDS researcher at the University of California at San Francisco who is attending the conference, where the case was presented to researchers on Monday.

This is huge. Hopefully the further study that will certainly result from this can find other exploitable holes in the disease.

"Solar Suitcase" Saving Moms, Babies During Childbirth

U.S. Doctor Laura Stachel has invented a portable kit of solar-powered equipment that allows doctors in Nigeria (and elsewhere) to more safely deliver babies when the power goes out in their hospitals:

[Stachel] witnessed countless other times when the lives of mothers and babies were at risk simply because of a lack of reliable electricity. Pregnant women would arrive at the hospital with severe complications, but without adequate light to treat them, procedures had to be compromised or delayed until daylight. Some women were even turned away.

“I realized that my skills as an obstetrician-gynecologist were utterly useless (without) something as basic as light and electricity,” Stachel said.

Stachel said midwives in Nigeria use all kinds of makeshift lighting when they deliver babies: kerosene lanterns, candles, even cell phones.

“That’s not adequate light for maternity care,” she said. “If somebody is hemorrhaging, if a baby needs resuscitation, you need to have directed light.”

Amazing, inspiring story.

Women Who See Themselves as Objects Are Less Able to Count Their Own Heartbeats

While a device connected to their finger measured their pulse, female university students were asked to “listen” to their bodies and silently count their own heartbeats, without feeling for their pulse. At the best, they were able to do so with 85 percent accuracy.

Then, the women responded to questionnaires designed to measure the degree to which they self-objectify – ranking how highly they value physical attributes based on appearance compared to those based on competence (for example, were they more concerned about their body shape or their energy level?).

They found a significant correlation between the participants’ ability to count their heartbeats and where they scored on the scale of self-objectification: Those who valued appearance over competence were less interospective [sic].

First of all, you can see by clicking through to the study in question that the correct word is not “interospective” but “interoceptive”, which certainly makes more sense.

More importantly, I don’t feel too confident in the conclusions the researchers drew from the study, because I feel like their methods were flawed. Doesn’t it seem entirely possible that being asked to count their own heartbeats right before filling out the questionnaires may have caused some women to experience more self-objectifying feelings because of some other factor not accounted for by the study?

Still, I like that someone is doing research into self-objectification and its effects on women’s overall health.

The Biggest (And Smallest) Pay Gaps

More numbers, this time showing income disparity between men and women by occupation. Cheat sheet: if you are a woman, do not go into sales; do go into health or medicine as anything but a doctor.

Part of the gap in pay is driven by choices, even within single job categories. Among physicians, for example, women are more likely than men to choose lower-paid specialties (though this does not explain all of the pay gap among doctors).

And among all workers, women are more likely than men to take a significant time off from work to raise children, and they tend to be re-hired at lower wages than their counterparts who remained in the workforce.

This suggests to me that if employers don’t want to disadvantage themselves long-term by perpetuating a lack of gender diversity they should swallow the short-term costs of better accommodating working women who want to start families.

Via The Jane Dough.

Mary Walker's Quest to be Appointed as a Union Doctor in the Civil War

Alexis Coe tells the story of an abolitionist surgeon eager to serve in what she was convinced would become a “war of liberation”. Denied a commission in the Union army, she took to dressing as a man, working without pay alongside less-qualified male doctors.

By 1861, the Sanitary Commission recommended amputations be conducted when a limb had serious lacerations or compound fractures, but the practice was controversial, with disconcerting mortality rates: Nearly 60 percent of leg amputations done at the knee resulted in death, while less than 20 percent survived hip-level amputations. Walker observed her colleagues senselessly amputating for want of practice. She wrote, “It was the last case that would ever occur if it was in my power to prevent such cruel loss of limbs.” She began double-checking their work, surreptitiously counseling soldiers against the surgery when appropriate. Many wrote her thankful letters after the war, reporting their limbs to be fully functional.

Great story, and the money quote is here:

The [New York] Tribune continued to criticize the military’s reluctance to recognize her efforts, asking “What ‘ism’ is more absurd than Conservatism? If a woman is proved competent for duty, and anxious to perform it, why restrain her?”

The Default Male

“Leopard” of Crates and Ribbons posted a fantastic breakdown of this issue today:

Everything, from toilet signs to cartoon characters, has the male gender as neutral and unmarked, while the female gender is marked out with ribbons, skirts, or sexy poses. See a puppy running around the neighbourhood, and people would most likely refer to it as a ‘he’. Random stick figure? Also a ‘he’. This is the reality that all of us have grown up with, and not only is it frustrating, it also has some nasty consequences for women.

Leopard goes on to explore several expressions of this phenomenon, ranging from the merely annoying to the downright life-threatening:

Let’s take the heart attack as an example. Now almost everyone can tell you the symptoms of a heart attack. A squeezing, painful feeling in the chest is the surest sign, accompanied by pain in the left arm. Right? Well, as it turns out, that pain in the chest is a classic male heart attack sign, and female heart attacks often have very different symptoms, more comparable to indigestion than chest pain.

Women are not a variation on men; they aren’t “men with uteruses” or “men with smaller muscles” or “men with more feelings”. They’re one half of a species.

Gingrey's Bad Science and Bad Logic

When I responded to Rep. Phil Gingrey’s “legitimate rape” remarks on Saturday, I focused on the subtle misogyny underlying the statement. William Saletan at Slate wants to make sure we don’t miss the bad science behind Gingrey’s claims that stress can cause infertility and that doctors frequently tell women to “Just relax. Drink a glass of wine.”

If Gingrey is telling this to his patients—and prescribing alcohol for it—he’s a quack. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “While chronic stress, for example from extreme exposure to famine or war, may decrease a woman’s ability to conceive, there is no scientific evidence that adrenaline, experienced in an acute stress situation, has an impact on ovulation.” The American Society for Reproductive Medicine agrees: “There isn’t any proof that stress causes infertility.” Another infertility organization, Resolve, says “stress does not cause infertility.” Dr. Gingrey might also benefit from reading this 2010 paper in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “Acute stress may induce ovulation in women.”

Saletan also isn’t letting Gingrey slide on his reinterpretation of Akin’s original statement as a warning against false rape accusations by teenage girls afraid to admit they had consensual sex:

Really? That isn’t how Akin explained his remark. On Aug. 20, a day after the gaffe, Akin went on Mike Huckabee’s radio show. Huckabee asked Akin: “What did you mean by ‘legitimate rape’? Were you attempting to say forcible rape?” Akin replied: “Yeah, I was talking about forcible rape.” If that’s truly what Akin meant, then he was using the term legitimate to suggest that any woman impregnated by rape must have suffered statutory rape, not forcible rape.

As I’ve mentioned frequently, I grew up Republican and retain strong nostalgia and sympathy for the party. So I believe I’m decently-positioned to be fair in thinking this incident illustrates that many of the GOP establishment have gotten lost in uncritical rhetoric and thereby become incapable of not sounding like racist, misogynist, homophobic fear-mongers scrabbling to retain their dwindling vestiges of power.

Because of my also—by this time—well-known belief that most people are pretty decent and have good intentions, I think the Republican party needs to take a good hard look at itself and get educated about the true needs and perspectives of women, gays, and minorities, very quickly.

What's in Your Vagina?

Fascinating report on vaginosis, a condition that can occur in women when the microbial ecosystem in the vagina becomes imbalanced.

Vaginosis increases the risk of contracting secondary infections, from herpes to HIV. But even on its own, the microbial shift may prompt low-grade inflammation that can derail reproduction. It can prevent fertilization in would-be mothers, prompt spontaneous abortion in pregnant women, and increase the risk of preterm birth later in pregnancy.

Do yourself—or the women in your life—a favor and take 10 minutes to read this.

Malala Yousafzai Discharged From Hospital

Dave Rosser, medical director at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS foundation trust, said: “Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery. Following discussions with Malala and her medical team, we decided that she would benefit from being at home with her parents and two brothers. She will return to the hospital as an outpatient and our therapies team will continue to work with her at home to supervise her onward care.”

At this point her recovery has not really been in doubt for some time, but this is still exciting news.

Ireland to Allow Abortions in Life-Threatening Cases

In a statement released by the Irish health department, the government affirmed that it will draft legislation that “should provide the clarity and certainty in relation to the process of deciding when a termination of pregnancy is permissible, that is where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman and this risk can only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy.”

When making this kind of choice, saving the life of the definite person seems like a safer bet than saving the life of the theoretical person.