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June 30th, 2008
12:06 PM ET

A place to play... Built!

By Matt Sloane
CNN Fit Nation Producer

As I mentioned a couple of months ago (Full Story), there was a storm brewing on the Louisiana Gulf Coast over the weekend – a storm of volunteers, that is, ready to build an amazing new playground in just six hours.

Pontiff Playground at 9 am

Pontiff Playground at 9 am

When we first arrived at Pontiff Playground in Metairie on Saturday morning, I still didn't believe it was possible.  There was 200 cubic yards of mulch sitting in the parking lot - it stood about 20 feet tall - 10 tons of concrete waiting to be mixed by hand, and a TON of playground equipment sitting in boxes and bubble wrap.  That was at 8:30 a.m.

Mulch Mountain at Pontiff Playground

"Mulch Mountain" around 10 am

By 2:30 p.m., I was absolutely proved wrong (Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's report from Metairie here).  Children who still remember what the park looked like under 5 feet of water after Hurricane Katrina were painting hopscotch on the sidewalks, making tile mosaics and working on a huge mural.  In those same six hours, 250 adult volunteers managed to install a 9-foot-high tube slide, a rock-climbing wall, a sandbox with dinosaur bones at the bottom ready to be "discovered," a 90-foot walking path, a handicap-accessible playhouse and scores of other playthings. 

250 volunteers completed the new Pontiff Playground around 2:30 pm

A park had been reborn, and a dream that started with crayons and a piece of paper just two months earlier became a reality.

For me, it was more than just a service project.  It was the culmination of an eight-month-long process to bring KaBOOM! on as a new partner in the CNN Fit Nation fight against childhood obesity.  It was an important step in our efforts to make a difference at the community level.

How have you been a force for change in terms of health and fitness?  Have you ever been involved in a KaBOOM! project?  If so, we'd love to hear about it!

If you want to help KaBOOM! reach its dream of building a playspace within walking distance of every child in America, go to www.Kaboom.org

Editor's note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 27th, 2008
12:27 PM ET

Getting Tested For HIV

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

You may have heard the news yesterday, that New York City wants everyone in the Bronx tested for HIV (read story).
Sounds like an ambitious project. The New York City Health Department says they are launching their largest ever HIV testing program today. They want every resident of the Bronx - ages 18 to 64 - to know if they do or do not have HIV. They hope that over the next three years, the 250,000 adults living in the Bronx who've never been tested will know if they've been infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

But this is not a local New York effort. It's part of a nationwide campaign. Today is "National HIV Testing Day." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nearly 40 percent of those infected with HIV don’t find out until they're already sick with AIDS. The CDC also reports that more than a million people were living with HIV/AIDS in the United States in 2003. What's really striking is that they say about 1 in 4 of those didn't know they were infected.

Knowing you've been infected with HIV as early as possible is key to living longer. Here's how the CDC's Director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS put it: "If you are infected, you can take steps to protect your health and that of your partners as well as seek life-extending medical treatment. People who learn they are not infected can take steps to help ensure they remain uninfected."

Preventing HIV transmission, by avoiding risky behavior (i.e. having unprotected sex or sharing needles), is of course the primary goal of public health officials. But on this 16th "National HIV Testing Day" it's clear that knowing your HIV status is critical too.

If you are wondering where you can get an HIV test, you can find a testing site by clicking on www.hivtest.org. I did and found there are 23 sites within a ten mile radius of CNN.

Advocates would like to see HIV testing as part of everyone's routine health check-up. Have you been recently tested for HIV? Do you think it should be part of your regular medical check-up?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 25th, 2008
11:15 AM ET

Reefer madness?

By Melanie Diaz
CNN Medical intern

Halfway through my undergraduate years, I think I can say I’ve been through enough to help me figure a few things out. But still, the college craze of cannabis continues to astound me. Oh, you know, marijuana, pot, ganja. If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the terms.

My generation grew up with parents who were at Woodstock - hippies who believed in freedom on many levels. Freeing your mind was just one reason to smoke.

And now, we’re going through it too. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug on college campuses today. While this isn’t anything new, it’s still something to consider, especially when short-term effects of smoking include distorted perceptions, difficulty solving problems and complications with learning and memory.

But still, some of my classmates claim they can write more profound papers and engage in better conversations when high on marijuana. Others say they hit the pipe nearly every day and can still pull high GPAs. They say it’s just a phase.

Knowing this, it struck me when the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse recently released a study on marijuana. It supports my thoughts that marijuana might be more dangerous than we realize.

According to CASA, in the ‘70s, the chemical that determines the drug’s strength, THC, was at less than 1 percent of potency.

Now, potency levels are up to 8.8 percent in seized samples.

In addition, the study shows that abuse or dependency on the drug is up fivefold.

And finally, the findings reveal a 136 percent increase in the number of ER visits caused by marijuana.

These numbers are huge. This isn’t “Dazed and Confused”; it’s real life.

The facts suggest we’re getting higher than ever before, more people are getting hooked on the drug and more are going to the hospital because of marijuana.

What do you think? Is smoking marijuana now more a gamble with your health? Or is it just a phase that college students go through?

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 23rd, 2008
01:39 PM ET

Rehab medication

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Medical Senior Producer

When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, we all know the way to get clean is through the 12 steps, and if you can afford to check yourself into rehab, all the better. If Amy Winehouse can just stick it out in the hospital, she’ll be fine.... right? We “know” these things until we hear from people like Dr. Mark Willenbring, who runs the division of Treatment and Recovery Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Dr. Willenbring is full of surprises. For one thing, he told me that for most people, “rehab” – a hospital stay - doesn’t work any better than outpatient treatment. A scary thought for those pricey centers to the stars, where a stay can top $40,000 a month.

He also likes to talk about medication, which gets touchy. Last year on Larry King Live, Willenbring argued with Susan Ford, chair of the Betty Ford Center in Arizona, after she said she’s still waiting for evidence that medication is helpful in fighting addiction. The Ford center isn’t alone; I’ve talked to several people who went through prominent treatment centers who say the option of medication was mentioned either very little, or not at all.

But Willenbring says a therapist who doesn’t believe in using medication to treat addiction is like a cardiologist who doesn’t believe in using drugs to lower blood pressure. Every case is different, but in clinical studies, two drugs - naltrexone and topiramate - have been shown to sharply improve the effectiveness of treatment. They seem to work best in conjunction with therapy, but Willenbring says in 20 years we’ll largely treat addiction the way we treat depression now – in an outpatient setting, often by a primary care doctor and often with a pill.

Have you ever struggled with addiction? How did you get clean?

Dr. Willenbring will be part of an upcoming Dr. Sanjay Gupta Special Investigations Unit hour on new treatments for drug and alcohol abuse.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 20th, 2008
09:18 AM ET

Mosquito warfare

By Amy Burkholder
CNN Medical Producer

Boats work the Roll Back Malaria Zambezi Expedition Photo courtesy Helge Bendl/www.zambezi-expedition.org

Her system primed with the anti-malaria drug Malarone and her body misted in repellant, Emily Bergantino recalls walking to a remote African village across an empty riverbed littered with pools of stagnant water. "Here I was, in a breeding ground – mosquitos were buzzing around everywhere – it was a malarial mosquito paradise."

And, she recalls the surprise she got when entering the village, one of many scattered along the Zambezi River.

"The villagers greeted us – it was very impromptu – with a skit and musical – acting out how a mosquito bites you, how you get chills –and fever- they pulled me in, pretending to bite me, " she laughs. The skit continued with the malaria workers hanging a bednet from a nearby tree, miming to villagers how, if you simply sleep under the net, it could save your life. And they got it. “These people don't need us to go in every night, they only need the tools, the knowledge – they have the drive to prevent it,” she muses.

Bergantino, who works for “Malaria No More”  an organization that just back from the "Roll Back Malaria Zambezi Expedition,”  a two-month mission down the Zambezi River to deliver bed nets and medications to remote river communities along the Zambezi River, including Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Another goal, promoting cross-border collaboration to control a highly preventable mosquito-disease that kills over one million people every year, most of them children and pregnant women. 3,000 children die each day of malaria – each death, so easily spared by a $10 bednet, or a $2 drug treatment – but out of reach for people who typically live on less than a dollar a day.

Organizations such as Bergantino's employer Malaria No More, the Global Fund, World Bank, United Nations Foundation and Gates Foundation all understand malaria's toll – and are making prevention priority one. But the uncertain news – will malaria re-emerge in new areas, as the global climate changes?

The World Health Organization acknowledges an important link between a warmer world and mosquito diseases - malaria in Africa- Dengue in Rio – West Nile in New York – and the CDC tells CNN if temperatures increase by just 3-4 degrees, we will see a very different distribution vector disease worldwide. Imagine malaria at your backdoor – it could happen, experts say. Malaria was endemic in the United States prior to the 1940s and it was in fact controlling malaria that led to the formation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After seeing a 3-year-old child crying in her father's arms, burning with malarial fever – for Bergantino, the war on the mosquito became very personal – and in a way, frustrating because she sees it as a such a simple, solvable equation.

"We can get lost in this broad concept of global health – but it's as simple as a single mosquito biting a child, and that child dying. One bednet protects a child. If the tool is available, a family stays intact."

If you're a soldier in the mosquito war, and have your own innovative solutions – we'd love to hear from you.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


Filed under: Cancer

June 18th, 2008
11:36 AM ET

Which comes first? Depression or diabetes?

By Ann J. Curley
CNN Medical Assignment Manager

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The familiar question entered my mind as I was reading a study in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association regarding diabetes and depression. Why? Because the study found that patients with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing depression and patients with depression have a higher risk of diabetes.

Lead study author Sherita Hill Golden, M.D. of Johns Hopkins University says her research involved two analyses of data generated by a study looking at heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The study involved over 5,000 men and women, ages 45 to 84.

First the researchers looked at people who began the study with symptoms of depression, but did not have diabetes. Those people had a 42 percent higher risk for developing diabetes during a three-year follow-up. Golden speculates that behaviors associated with depression, such as overeating, smoking, and not exercising, help to trigger the diabetes.

A second facet of the study looked at patients in whom type 2 diabetes was diagnosed, who had no symptoms of depression. Those patients showed a 54 percent higher risk for depression during the three-year follow-up period. Golden believes that the stress of managing diabetes can lead to depression for some patients. Although this study focused on type 2 diabetes, Golden says that depression is also common among type 1 diabetics.

Health care providers and patients must be aware of the double-edged sword of diabetes and depression. Identifying and treating both is critical. It’s important to understand that depression, when untreated, can lead to behaviors that can lead to, or worsen diabetes, because people eat poorly and don’t exercise. But there are many treatment options for both conditions that can keep patients healthy and happy.

Do you have diabetes or depression? Are you concerned that one might lead to the other? What are you doing to take care of yourself?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 16th, 2008
03:31 PM ET

Cameroon's diseased children

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

In a small town called Akonolinga, about an hour outside Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, a strange disease is going around that primarily affects children. It starts as an ulcer on the skin that quickly spreads. Untreated, it can start to affect the bones and eventually even get into the bloodstream. If it gets to that point, there is little that can be done, and the child will often succumb to the disease. They try everything in this small village town to not let it get to that bad. They scrape away the skin, cutting out the diseased areas. They give injections of various medicines, and they keep people in hospitals for months. I met a young boy named Naturale, who had to have his left arm amputated at the shoulder. I almost cried when I met him. By the time he came into see a doctor, the disease was too far gone, his bones literally crumbling. As I visited the clinic, I learned the name of the disease: Buruli. I also learned something that stunned me — what many in this town believe is the origin of Buruli: Witchcraft.

It goes like this — as a punishment for taking something or some other trivial thing, these children had been cursed by witches and sorcerers living in the nearby areas. Take someone else’s mango for example, and soon after the child will get an ulcer. In Naturale’s case, he was born out of wedlock, and the witches in the area thought it would be better if he were dead. I was told they cursed him with a particularly severe infection, and he barely survived. Now he stays at the hospital trying to shield himself.

Now, if you think what you are reading is too far-fetched, you may be interested to know I sat down with Ph.D-level medical anthropologist, Karen Saylors, who explained all of this to me. Along with researchers associated with Johns Hopkins, she is studying Buruli.

Buruli ulcers have been reported in more than 30 countries, according to the World Health Organization. With the increasing geographical spread since 1980, WHO is working to improve surveillance and develop better tools to control the disease. Karen introduced me to traditional healers who knew all about placing a hex on someone and even how to cure the disease with herbs and a piece of bark.

While Karen and her colleagues don’t really buy into the idea of witchcraft, they also recognize what a widespread belief it really is here. Instead, Karen has busied herself studying the possibility that Buruli may be spread from animal to human. As it has many similarities to a staph infection, which can cause flesh to be ulcerated and seemlingly “eaten,”, the doctors are using powerful antibiotics with good success. Karen has even studied the particular traditional medicine herbs, which are often effective. What she found was that particular plant had some of the same ingredients found in streptomycin, an antibiotic.

As a doctor, it was amazing to see how this disease has been deciphered. It was also a fascinating glimpse into the connection between animals, plants and humans. Not only is the Buruli-causing pathogen most likely from an animal, but the medication used to treat it is from a local plant. And, if we look deep enough, we find this is in fact the case with many diseases.

Today, I will be in the wilderness of DRC, specifically a village called Lodja. We will be visiting a monkeypox surveillance clinic. I promise to report back on how the locals here are working to contain the virus so it doesn’t spread around the world. I can’t help be struck by the fact that we are in the middle of a very strong interface between man and animal. It has been here for millions of years, but it is only now that we are starting to understand its awesome culture, power and possible danger.  revised 6/19/2008

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 16th, 2008
11:53 AM ET

Surviving the bush in Cameroon

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is on assignment for "Planet in Peril" in the bush of Cameroon.  He filed this report on survival techniques in the jungle.

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Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

 

 


June 13th, 2008
03:30 PM ET

Remembering Dad on Father's Day

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

I've always looked forward to Father's Day. Over the past decade I have tried to make it a little more special by making the trip from Georgia to Pennsylvania to see my dad because he’d been living alone since my mother passed away at the end of 1999. This year I'm once again spending Father's Day in Pennsylvania. But it's most likely the last time. My father passed away a month ago; we're having his memorial service today.

Over the past couple of years, my father didn't want to travel any more – not to Germany, where I grew up – not even down to Atlanta, where the winters are milder than in the Northeast. At first he said it was the fact that he couldn't smoke anywhere anymore, an inconvenience he didn't want to put up with. Then he was experiencing some discomforts, which could have, and even were, mistaken by him and by me – his daughter, the medical producer – for something benign that would probably go away.

Then, my dad just seemed to be getting a little less interested in things he used to enjoy. I thought it was a little bit of depression because he missed my mom – the best diagnosis I could offer from my conversations over the phone. Then, over the past year, his symptoms not only persisted, they became worse. Dad refused to go to a doctor. He didn't trust them, despite the fact that I, in my years as a medical producer, had encountered some of the best doctors in many fields. He probably had some good reasons for not trusting doctors. When Mom was battling lung cancer, we were disappointed with her care.

So dad didn't go to the doctor until my husband brought him to Atlanta in April. I told him the only way he could get strong medication - for what I now know must have been excruciating pain - was by getting prescription drugs. Those could come only from seeing a physician. Less than a week later, we learned that Dad had metastatic colon cancer. He died five days later.

Had he gone to see a doctor on a regular basis, or had he gotten a screening colonoscopy at 50 or even 60, this may have been prevented. Had he gone to a doctor over the past two years when he was experiencing more severe symptoms, he may have had a fighting chance to beat the cancer. According to the American Cancer Society and many other medical associations, colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer.

My dad was a very smart man. But when it came to managing his health, something else was stronger – call it fear or cynicism. I don't really know. But I'm left with a lot of "what if's?" It's not comforting to know my dad was like many other men, as my collegues have already reported this week.  (CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen's report can be found here; CNN Medical Correspondent Judy Fortin's report can be found hereMy husband says "I don't want to go to the doctor - they're just going to find something wrong."

Why do you – if you're a man reading this – not go to the doctor? What may compel you to seek medical care if you think something's wrong?

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 13th, 2008
09:55 AM ET

The hunt for food

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Thursday I did something I am unlikely to ever do again in my life. For eight hours, I trekked through a jungle in southern Cameroon. Now, I have been on hikes before, but this was unlike anything I ever experienced. As soon as we entered the jungle with a local hunter named Dede Donddong, we were immersed in the feel of the wild.

You could immediately hear the sounds of hornbills and an African gray parrot in the distance, loud and melodious. You could also feel the intense heat and humidity uniquely experienced in a jungle. Within seconds, we were drenched. You could smell the centuries of foliage mixed with the live scent of animals. Everything around us was green, almost unimaginably thick. I didn’t know how we would even make our way through, as there wasn’t a path that I could immediately see. Dede smiled and wielded a machete. He started a path and began our journey. 

For us, it was the pursuit of a story for “Planet in Peril,” looking at the bush meat trade and the reliance of locals on these animals for protein. For Dede, it was a mandatory trip to find some sort of bush animal, so that his family might eat that night. As we left, his three kids, two parents, his wife, and three neighbors bade him farewell and good luck. They were all hoping he would come home with something, really anything. But, his kids told us their favorite bush meat was porcupine. Yes, porcupine.  Along with snakes, rodents, primates, antelope and many other animals, they are collectively referred to as bush meat.

We learned about the concerns of a bush meat crisis in Western and Central Africa. According to some estimates, 4.5 million tons of bush meat was extracted from the Congo basin last year, putting a few animals on the endangered list, and a few others on the protected status list. In fact, the ape population in 96 percent of protected areas is declining. Within the next 10-50 years, the apes face extinction. Excessive hunting, along with deforestation is a large part of the problem.

There is no question Dede alone is not to blame. And, don’t forget, his family is dependent on his ability to hunt and bring bush meat back to the village. Buying food from bigger villages is simply not an option - the towns are too far away and the food is too expensive. What I’ve seen is a part of the daily life and culture for so many living in the jungle. Still, the bush meat crisis appears to be real, with no evidence of slowing down. This is one example of the global food crisis in Central Africa.

Oh, and by the way, Dede brought home a porcupine and his kids were happy.

This blog was brought to you from the southern jungles of Cameroon.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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