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Sexually transmitted disease rates are booming
A harrowing new report by the CDC should serve as a wake-up call.
- STD rates have risen every year since 2013, with 2017 showing the largest increase.
- Syphilis passed from mothers to babies is causing easily preventable infant deaths.
- STDs are easy to cure so far — the key is getting regularly tested.
Every year from 2013 through 2017 the number of STD (sexually transmitted diseases) has gone up. 2017 was the worst of all, with 200,000 more cases than the previous year, according to new information published by the CDC. (2018 data has not yet been analyzed.) All three of the major STDs — gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis — have experienced significant increases in the number of case reported.
While STDs and the more broadly defined STIs (sexually transmitted infections may not produce symptoms) are often considered little more than a distasteful inconvenience, untreated they can lead to serious health consequences. Perhaps the most tragic increase in recent years is a 22% increase in infant deaths from congenital syphilis that can be unknowingly passed to newborns from mothers unaware of their own infections.
According to Jonathan Mermin of the CDC, "We are sliding backward. It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point." What is going on?
Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis
The statistics are sobering in the period from 2017 to 2018 alone. The CDC reports:
- Gonorrhea cases have increased 5%, to more than 580,000 cases. This is the highest number of infections reported since 1991.
- Chlamydia has set a new record, more than 1.7 million cases, an increase of 3% throughout 2017.
- There were 115,000 cases of syphilis. The STD is most infectious during its primary and secondary stages, and these increased by 14% to 35,000 cases. During 2017, syphilis in newborns rose to 1,300 cases, an increase of 40%. Underscoring its source is that syphilis among women of child-bearing age went up by almost an identical amount, 36%.
Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, the most common sexually transmitted infections, can be cured with antibiotics (for now). Left untreated, the STDs can lead to transmission to other people, as well as "adverse health outcomes such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and increased HIV risk," says the CDC.
And of course, there's the congenital syphilis killing babies. Most states in the U.S. have reported cases, though 70% of them are concentrated in just five states: Texas, California, Florida, Arizona, and Louisiana.
The heartbreaking loss of newborn life is easily avoidable. Gail Bolan of the CDC says, "There are tools available to prevent every case of congenital syphilis. Testing is simple and can help women to protect their babies from syphilis — a preventable disease that can have irreversible consequences."
It's for this reason the CDC recommends that all women get tested the first time they visit their healthcare provider upon becoming pregnant, and — if they live in high-risk areas — they should get tested a second time at the start of their third trimester and again before delivery. This advice applies even to expectant mothers who aren't currently sexually active. In addition to being transmissible through genital, oral, and anal sex, there are plenty of other ways to quietly pick up an STD infection.
There's good reason not to put off getting an STD and STI checkup. Gonorrhea is one of the worrying bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, according to both the CDC and the World Health Organization, who report that it currently afflicts about 78 million people worldwide each year. According to the WHO's Teodora Wi, "The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them."
Image source: CDC
Why are STD rates on the rise
The CDC cites three likely reasons:
- Drug use, poverty, stigma, and unstable housing, which can reduce access to STD prevention and care
- Decreased condom use among vulnerable groups, including young people and gay and bisexual men
- Cuts to STD programs at the state and local level — in recent years, more than half of local programs have experienced budget cuts, resulting in clinic closures, reduced screening, staff loss, and reduced patient follow-up and linkage to care services
The subtext of the CDC's third bullet point about local programs being cut is that there's a compelling statistical intersection between the increase in drug use — particularly meth — and heterosexual syphilis. The CDC proposes new collaborations between STD control programs and substance-use disorder services providers — not cutting back such programs as seen recently.
Finally, the stigma attached to having an STD or STI is real, and many would simply prefer to assume they don't have one. This is despite the estimate that among sexually active people, some 80% will have an STI (with STDs being a subset of these) at some point in their lives. Since many of these infections, especially STIs, present no symptoms, it's easy to opt out of testing.
This is obviously a bad idea. It's much smarter to get tested regularly and, if necessary, treated. Encourage your partners and friends to get tested — without making fun — and be forthcoming and honest if you have an infection. Use condoms religiously, and when your healthcare provider inquires about your activities, be honest.
Image source: celiafoto/Shutterstock
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.