OH Digest: Climate change threatens 800 million in South Asia, a miraculous starfish recovery, and more

OH Digest: Climate change threatens 800 million in South Asia, a miraculous starfish recovery, and more

Colva Beach in Goa, India. People across South Asia already face extreme poverty, with climate change projected to worsen their impoverishment. (Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Rajib Ghosh)

Our weekly round-up compiles stories and news, both from here at Penn and around the world, that highlight the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health.

By Jacob Williamson-Rea

FEATURED ITEM:
Global warming in South Asia: 800 million at risk
The New York Times, June 28, 2018
Six of the countries that make up South Asia—Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh—already face heightened annual temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. If climate change continues on its current course, poverty could intensify in those hot spots, warns the World Bank.

Ebola outbreak in Congo ‘largely contained,’ says WHO
Reuters, June 20, 2018
The World Health Organization has announced that no new cases of Ebola have been recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo since June 9, 2018.

Tick discovery highlights how few answers we have about these pests in the U.S.
Scientific American, June 26, 2018
While many tick species can be found in the U.S., researchers are perplexed by how the long-horned tick (H. longicornis)—common in Australia, east Asia, and New Zealand—arrived on a New Jersey farm and in several other states.

The amazing return of the starfish: Species triumphs over melting disease
The Guardian, June 26, 2018
Starfish faced a massive mortality event on the western coast of North America due to a mysterious virus, worrying researchers that the population would never make a comeback. But a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that juvenile starfish adapted quickly by developing a genetic resistance to the virus.

Flight attendants get more uterine, thyroid and other cancers, study finds
CNN, June 26, 2018
A new study published in the journal Environmental Health discovered that flight attendants face serious health risks, including an array of cancers. This could possibly be linked to frequent interruptions in their circadian rhythms.

Leprosy lurks in armadillos in Brazil’s Amazon
Science News, June 28, 2018
More than 60 percent of Brazilian armadillos carry Mycobacterium leprae, the leprosy bacterium. Brazilian villagers who eator even huntthese armadillos are at a higher risk of catching the disease.

 

Skin and summer sports: The importance of self-exams

Skin and summer sports: The importance of self-exams

Lynn Schuchter, chief of Hematology-Oncology in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center and Mike Schmidt discuss the Hall-of-Famer’s Stage III melanoma and the importance of early detection. 

It was fall of 2013 when Mike Schmidt noticed something strange on his hand. The Phillies legend only had a few hours in Florida before he had to catch a flight, but he decided to see whether his dermatologist could see him on short notice. What started as a quick check led to a full exam and a biopsy. The Hall-of-Famer got the call a few days later. He had Stage III melanoma.

The most common form of skin cancer, melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers in the United States and can strike men and women of all ages, races, and skin types. One in 50 Americans will develop melanoma at some point in his life, with more than 91,000 new cases expected this year alone. It is the leading cause of cancer death in women 25- to 29-years-old and is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in children and young adults aged 15 to 29. The majority of melanomas occur on the skin but can also occur in the eye, in mucous membranes, or beneath fingernails or toenails.

Schmidt’s doing well these days after a series of treatments, and he recently shared his story as part of the University of Pennsylvania’s 16th Annual Focus on Melanoma event, a program designed for patients and caregivers dealing with the disease. Lynn Schuchter, chief of Hematology-Oncology in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, hosted the event and spoke with Schmidt both on stage at the conference and later in a Facebook Live session.

“It’s a common tale to hear that melanoma is discovered this way, and it shows the importance of being proactive and taking the initiative to see dermatologists who can give you a full exam,” Schuchter says.

Schmidt spent his career out in the sunshine on the baseball diamond, and even before he turned pro, he played multiple sports, both on organized teams and on the playground. But even for non-athletes, for many people the summer means beach season and extra time exposed to the sun’s rays. Whether you know it or not, that exposure takes a toll on your skin.

“It’s crucial that people wear sunscreen, whether they’re playing sports or not,” Schuchter says. “You shouldn’t get to the end of the summer on one bottle of sunscreen. Use it frequently and make sure you reapply.”

Schuchter also points to the dangers of tanning salons, which have been proven to cause serious harm to the skin. The American Academy of Dermatology says people 35 or younger who tan indoors increase their risk of developing melanoma by 59 percent, and that the risk increases with each use. Women under 30 who use tanning beds are six times more likely to develop melanoma. Those numbers hold true whether people burn while tanning or not. Schuchter says spray tans are a safer option for people who want to have a tanned look, but she says the more important fight is to change people’s minds about the need for darker skin.

“We need to help change the notion that a tanned look is a healthy look for skin,” Schuchter says. “It’s associated with signs of aging, but more importantly, it’s associated with skin cancer and can be deadly.”

In addition to taking the right preventative steps, regular self-exams are crucial. The earlier a patient catches melanoma, the more treatable it is, and recent research shows other people inside the home can play a critical role in spotting something suspicious. Penn researchers found married people are less likely to die from melanoma than unmarried people, due largely to the fact that spouses can influence whether a partner decides to see a doctor. The Penn study showed 46 percent of married people went to a doctor at the earliest stage of the melanoma, compared with 43 percent of those who were never married, 39 percent of people who are divorced, and 32 percent of widows and widowers.

“People in long-term relationships see their partner’s skin frequently over time, and are able to notice any new or changing lesions, especially in difficult-to-see areas such as the back,” says lead study author Cimarron Sharon, a recent graduate of Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.

“Not only should people get regular skin exams, but they should take someone along to the visit since this can help you make good decisions,” adds Giorgos Karakousis, an associate professor of Endocrine & Oncologic Surgery.

Another surveillance strategy harnesses mobile technology. A group of Penn dermatologists developed an app called MelaSight to help those at the highest risk. A trained medical photographer or doctor takes pictures of a person’s skin, then stores them securely in the app. When patients examine their skin at home, they can compare what they see to what pictures showed during their last appointment and look for changes.

“Until now, dermatologists sent patients home with an envelope full of these pictures, but this app takes advantage of current technology and provides patients with a digital tool they can easily use,” says Emily Chu, an assistant professor of Dermatology in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Chu developed the app with Carrie Kovarik and Michael Ming, both associate professors of Dermatology, and Andrew Marek, a recent Penn Medicine graduate.

Whether it’s a high-tech solution or an old-fashioned look in the mirror, recognizing changes on the skin is the key to early detection. Once a patient spots something that looks suspicious, it’s important to take action right away, like Schmidt did. In other words: Be Like Mike.

“When you notice something has changed, it should raise all kinds of alarms,” Schuchter says. “That means it’s time to talk to your doctor and get a skin exam.”

Our summer focus is…summer!

Just as we did with our brain-research month this past April, for the next several weeks, the Penn One Health communications group will be featuring research stories related to summer.

Our first installment is about melanoma, the summer sun, and the importance of self-exams. We’ll also share a piece about how to calm dogs anxious about fireworks and thunder, one about why ice cream causes “brain freeze,” and another on how hot weather affects crime.   

Keep track of the news here, use the hashtag #pennonehealth to share it, and let us know what you think at onehealth@upenn.edu. Thanks for reading!

OH Digest: Dangerous Disease X, animal antibiotics, and more

OH Digest: Dangerous Disease X, animal antibiotics, and more

A new strain of a deadly bird flu, H7N9, could become Disease X, a “pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease” that leads to a “serious international epidemic,” according to the World Health Organization. (Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Chuwa)

By Jacob Williamson-Rea

Our weekly round-up compiles stories and news, both from here at Penn and around the world, that highlight the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health.

FEATURED ITEM:
What is Disease X? Deadly bird flu virus could be next pandemic
Newsweek, June 15, 2018
A dangerous bird flu has killed more than one third of 1,600 affected patients in China. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the H7N9 strain has the potential to cause a worldwide pandemic.

Kenyan official says five dead in reemergence of Rift Valley Fever
Reuters, June 11, 2018
Highly contagious Rift Valley Fever has killed five people in Kenya this past week, and the zoonotic disease has hospitalized two more.

Ticks and mosquitoes are ready to deliver disease in a bite, but you can stop them
The Washington Post, June 18, 2018
Mosquitoes pass multiple diseases to humans, but it turns out that ticks spread more than 75 percent of vector-borne disease in the United States. Simple steps like removing standing water and conducting tick checks can help.

Sea rise will threaten thousands of California homes
Scientific American, June 18, 2018
By 2035, residents in cities near Los Angeles and San Francisco will face chronic flooding, and by 2045, flooding will affect about 13,000 homes, according to a report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

As carbon dioxide levels rise, major crops are losing nutrients
NPR, June 19, 2018
While plants rely on carbon dioxide, higher C02 levels could potentially make our food less nutritious. Scientists at the USDA’s Adaptive Cropping Systems Laboratory are working to get to the root of the issue.

Can China kick its animal antibiotic habit?
The Guardian, June 19, 2018
China uses more agricultural antibiotics than any other country, some 162,000 tons a year, with more than half going toward animal husbandry, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. For comparison, the U.S. uses 10,000 tons. Shifting the tide will mean convincing Chinese farmers to change their practices.

Williamson-Rea is a junior science writer in the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Communications. He is also an MA candidate in Science/Medical Writing at Johns Hopkins University.

OH Digest: A potential cancer vaccination, a complicated conservation effort, and more

OH Digest: A potential cancer vaccination, a complicated conservation effort, and more

A recent cancer vaccination study has the potential to eventually protect humans from cancer, and researchers are set to begin vaccine trials on dogs. (Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Darmstadt Koeln) 

By Jacob Williamson-Rea

Our weekly round-up compiles stories and news, both from here at Penn and around the world, that highlight the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health.

FEATURED ITEM:
A shot against cancer slated for testing in massive dog study
Scientific American, June 7, 2018
Biochemist Stephen Johnston of Arizona State University wants to protect people from cancer. Researchers are testing a shot on dogs that has the potential to destroy cancerous cells before they become malignant, but some oncology specialists say this is impossible.

In a conservation catch-22, efforts to save quolls might endanger them
Science News, June 7, 2018
In an attempt to save the northern quoll, a small marsupial that lives in Australia, conservationists may have accidentally eliminated the animals’ fear of its predators—in just 13 years and 13 generations.

A 5-year-old girl’s sudden paralysis was a mystery. Then her mother checked her scalp.
The Washington Post, June 11, 2018
After a young girl struggled suddenly to stand and speak one morning, her mother discovered a tick embedded in the girl’s scalp. The condition, called tick paralysis, isn’t common, but can lead to respiratory failure if no action is taken.

Scientists developed a new vaccine based on spider silk microcapsules
TechExplorist.com, June 12, 2018
Spider silk microcapsules strengthen the effects of immune system vaccines, and could potentially deliver the vaccination right to the core of immune cells.

How is our health tied to the health of The Great Lakes?
WDET, June 15, 2018
The Great Lakes are in trouble because of pollution, bio-contamination, and plenty of other challenges. Solving these problems does more than just help the bodies of water. Professor Carol Miller of Wayne State University sees the lakes as crucial for all life forms.

The magical wilderness farm: raising cows among the weeds at Knepp
The Guardian, June 15, 2018
By selling their farm machinery and allowing their land’s vegetation and ecosystem to grow untamed, the owners of Knepp farm, located 45 miles outside of London, discovered a new farming method, one that places an emphasis on ecology and conservation.

Williamson-Rea is a junior science writer in the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Communications. He is also an MA candidate in Science/Medical Writing at Johns Hopkins University.

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