New in Exploring Health's longform vertical: Gillian Feinglass delves into the complex and often overlooked struggles of American apple farmers, juxtaposing the pastoral dream with the harsh economic and environmental realities they face.
On February 24th, an 11-year-old girl died of avian influenza H5N1 in Cambodia. The World Health Organization (WHO) first reported the virus in Cambodia in 2014, and is now investigating whether it has the ability to spread among humans or trigger another pandemic. However, those who were in contact with the 11-year-old tested negative for the H5N1 virus infection. Her father, who showed no symptoms, was told to be infected with a viral variant, but unrelated to the outbreak in birds.
This isn’t the first time flu-like symptoms have been transmitted from birds to humans. The H5N1 subtype of avian influenza was first identified in 1996 in geese in China. Since then, there have been more than 800 cases across several countries, but only through prolonged, direct contact with birds. Otherwise, H5N1 does not seem to have developed direct human-to-human transmission. Still, the WHO is closely monitoring mutated variants for now.
— by Emily Kim
By Scott Dance, Washington Post
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been tracking the levels of toxic chemicals in the air in East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a Norfolk train derailment. Many of the train cars contained chemicals used to make plastic, one of which had to be released to prevent an explosion due to pressure build-up inside the car. State and federal officials have stated that the air in East Palestine is “completely safe.” However, a team of researchers at Texas A&M University published a review of the data provided by the EPA that shows potentially dangerous levels of nine air pollutants in the area.
These nine air pollutants all remain elevated as of February 23, 2023, three weeks after the derailment, while other chemical levels have returned to normal. The Texas A&M researchers warn that these pollutants may cause long-term health effects if they remain elevated. The EPA responded by saying that data on the possible health effects of these chemicals assume life-long exposure. They do not expect these chemicals to remain in the air for the months or years it would take to begin seeing serious health effects. The EPA has also conducted air tests inside homes and has found no evidence of air pollutants indoors. However, there are still many unknowns, such as the long-term effects of chemical exposure, how long the remaining pollutants will stay in the environment, and how these factors will affect pets and wildlife.
— by Gabrielle Stearns
Using an alternate light source could help nurses and police detect bruises on darker skin, research says
A study by researchers at George Mason University sheds light on an important issue: darker skin means health providers more often miss signs of injury that result in skin discoloration, like bruises. But the study provides a solution: different colors of light may make it easier to identify marks like bruises on darker skin. This study of over 31,000 observations provided evidence that regular fluorescent white lights in exam rooms should be supplemented with additional light sources in different wavelengths to help providers recognize potential symptoms of violence or illness in patients with darker skin. They note, however, that more research is needed to determine best practices for use of these new light sources. For example, someone’s longstanding birthmarks and reactions to topical products could look vastly different under alternate light sources. It’s important, they note, to combine this information with the patient’s injury accounts and medical history. This isn’t the first time that a “typical” medical fixture adversely affects patients of color. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was found that digital forehead thermometers and even pulse oximeters didn’t work as accurately for people with darker skin, highlighting the necessity for more inclusive and thoughtful care in the medical field.
— by Annika Urban
By Carolyn Todd, NY Times
People sleep every day, but up until the last 50 years, researchers knew very little about the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep. There is still so much to learn, but experts know that REM differs from the first three stages: prior to REM, the body primarily rests and repairs bone and muscle tissue. Brain waves are slow and long. But during REM, brain activity explodes. It is here where dreams are generated and memories are synthesized and internalized. Research shows that those consolidated memories increase people’s learning ability and creativity. REM also helps the brain dissociate emotion from experiences. This allows people the ability to wake up the next day and form clear and objective opinions about what may have occurred the previous day. Some people, recognizing REM sleep’s numerous psychological benefits, may wonder if they can just target REM sleep for a night. Researchers emphatically respond that people cannot target REM sleep and that the best way to increase the quantity of it is to sleep more and sleep better.
— by Andrew Feld
Items contributed by: Emily Kim, Gabrielle Stearns, Annika Urban, and Andrew Feld