Longer Looks: Miracle Microbes; Zika And The Brain; And Depression In Doctors
Each week, KHN finds interesting reads from around the Web.
The New Yorker:
Once a year, when Slava Epstein was growing up in Moscow, his mother took him to the Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy, a showcase for the wonders of Soviet life. The expo featured many things—from industrial harvesters to Uzbek wine—but Epstein, who began going in the nineteen-sixties, when he was eight or nine, was interested primarily in one: the Cosmos Pavilion, a building the size of a hangar, with a ceiling shaped like a giant inverted parabola. Space fever was running high in the city. Since 1961, when Yuri Gagarin orbited the globe, unmanned vessels had been launched toward Mars and Venus. Beside the expo’s entrance, the towering Monument to the Conquerors of Space depicted a probe swooping up to the heavens. (Raffi Khatchadourian, 7/20)
How Zika Breaks Into The Brain
When Brazil’s alarming spike in newborns with brain damage was linked to an obscure virus last year, Arnold Kriegstein began to do some reading. Kriegstein, a neurobiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, learned that the Zika virus is named after the forest in Uganda where it was first discovered in 1947. Spread by mosquitoes, it causes fairly mild symptoms—a rash, inflamed eyes, muscle aches, a fever. But in late 2015, months after it appeared in Brazil, babies there began to be born with microcephaly, an underdeveloped brain, in surprisingly large numbers. In April 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement: There was now enough evidence—especially the presence of the virus in the brains of stillborn infants—to suggest that Zika was the cause. But scientists knew next to nothing about how a virus could infect fetal brain cells and inhibit brain growth. (Veronique Greenwood, 7/19)
Why Are Doctors Plagued By Depression And Suicide? A Crisis Comes Into Focus
A sense of angst was rattling students at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine. One of their peers had taken his life days before. Professor Mikel Snow felt the dark undercurrent and knew he had to speak up. So, for the first time, he told his students about his decades-long struggle with depression. As word spread, students across the campus started contacting him to discuss the suicide — and to share their own psychological distress. (Judith Graham, 7/21)
Medicine Is Failing Obese People
Watching a person die from cardiac arrest in an intensive care unit is devastating. It’s especially so when the person is a woman in her 40s who has been smothered to death by her own weight — and we doctors can do nothing to save her. This 500-pound patient, who was at a county hospital in Georgia where I was working, had respiratory failure caused by obesity hypoventilation syndrome, a breathing disorder. It was just the tip of the iceberg of her medical problems. (Farah Naz Khan, 7/18)
Why The Male Pill Still Doesn't Exist
Had there been a male contraceptive pill in 1976, I probably wouldn’t be here to write this. That was the year when, after my mom—may she rest in peace—had been on the pill for 12 years, health worries made her doctor tell her to come off it. “She said to the doctor, ‘I’ll get pregnant,’” my dad recalls. “And within a very short while, she was.” He explains, much to my discomfort, that although my parents switched to condoms, I was conceived because “sometimes you feel reckless.” But if a male pill had existed, my dad says, he’d definitely have used it. (Andy Extance, 7/13)
History Credits This Man With Discovering Ebola On His Own. History Is Wrong.
If you ask Google who discovered Ebola, you will immediately be presented with a picture of Dr. Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. ... There’s a small problem here, however. Piot did not discover Ebola on his own — and depending on how you define discovery, may not be able to actually make the claim at all. He definitely did not choose the name Ebola. ... But over the years he has come to be credited, perhaps unwittingly, with an outsized role in the story of Ebola, to the mounting annoyance of infectious disease scientists who have known better. (Helen Branswell, 7/14)
This New Research Rewrites The History Of HIV In America
If you've ever asked who brought AIDS to the United States, you've likely been told that "Patient Zero" was a man called Gaëtan Dugas. The Canadian flight attendant was blamed for carrying the virus from Africa and spreading it around the gay community in North America. Immortalized in books like Randy Shilts's And the Band Played On, Dugas also became central to the narrative at the time that the disease was spread by reckless, promiscuous men who have sex with men. (Julia Belluz, 7/18)