laurie-breen

Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

The 5 Second Rule – A Scientific Examination

It’s a lazy Saturday and you’re at home having a leisurely lunch, watching YouTube on your phone while you eat a delicious bologna sandwich. The next thing you know, those crazy YouTube cats have made you laugh so hard that you drop your sandwich – what do you do? Do you throw the contaminated sandwich away? Or do you think to yourself “five second rule,” pick it up and continue eating? Everyone knows the 5 Second Rule: if you drop food on the floor, it’s okay to eat, as long as you pick it up within five seconds. A researcher at the University of Illinois found that 56% of men and 70% of women surveyed had heard of this rule (or its alternative version, the 3 Second Rule), qualifying it as a legit Western Cultural Phenomenon. So, is this real or what? Surprisingly, studies have given conflicting views as to what exactly the 5 Second Rule means for our health and welfare. Jillian Clarke, the researcher from U of Illinois found that food was contaminated within five seconds of being dropped onto ceramic tile inoculated with E. coli. She had some trials and tribulations in the course of her research – at first she was simply going to drop the food on the lab floor, but the lab floors turned out to be *too* clean. She also found that women tended...

How Do We Help Patients Reduce their Risk of Dementia?

Here’s something to note when helping patients reduce their risk of dementia: each year in the US, doctors diagnose around 3 million cases. However, dementia isn’t a disease, but a grouping of conditions that impair brain functions. These functions can include: Memory Communication and language Ability to focus and pay attention Reasoning and judgment Visual perception Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells, with different types of damage causing different types of dementia. For example, vascular dementia is  caused by conditions that deprive brain cells of oxygen, such as a stroke. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with brain cell damage that prevents communication between the cells.  Dementia associated with aging largely affects those over the age of 60, and although there is no cure, various treatments can help with symptoms or slow progression. However, new research is suggesting that certain lifestyle changes could help decrease the risk of developing dementia in old age. New research published in JAMA shows that there may be a link between chronic or persistent pain and an increased risk for accelerated dementia. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco published results on a longitudinal study that followed patients for up to 12 years, and found that those who reported pain in the first two years of interviews were more likely to have a faster decline in memory performance as they aged and also had an...

Don’t Get Sick: Four Pet Diseases To Watch For

With diligent care and cleaning of your pets, along with regular checkups at the vet’s office, it’s pretty unlikely that you would contract a disease from your pet. However, all animals are potential carriers of zoonotic diseases. Here are four pet diseases to watch for: Cats – Toxoplasmosis You could contract this parasite from your cat if you aren’t careful to wash your hands after cleaning out your kitty’s litterbox. Although an estimated 60 million people in the US carry the Toxoplasma parasite, most don’t show symptoms. However, in pregnant women and those with compromised immunity, Toxoplasma could cause serious health problems. Tips from the CDC to avoid bringing toxoplasmosis home include changing the litterbox daily, keeping your cat indoors and feeding cats canned or dried commercial food or well-cooked meats – not raw or undercooked food. Dogs – Bubonic Plague While you can’t get the plague directly from Fido, you could get it from one of his fleas, if that flea is carrying the bacterium Yersinia pestis. In humans, the Bubonic Plague can cause headache, chills, fever, weakness and swollen lymph nodes. Treat promptly with antibiotics, and make sure you keep your pets free of fleas. Cases of Bubonic Plague are very rare, with only about 7 reported cases per year in the US. Birds – Parrot Fever Parrot Fever, or Psittacosis, comes from infection from the bacteria...

Do Teaching Hospitals Offer Better Mortality Rates?

There are many misconceptions about teaching hospitals, but the easiest mistake to make is to assume that because residents with less experience are involved at the hospital it means that patients will receive a lower standard of care. However, a new study published in JAMA shows that what may sound like a logical conclusion does not hold up. When researchers in the Boston area, led by Laura G. Burke, MD, MPH, Instructor in Emergency Medicine at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, set out to examine this very question, they found that data from previous studies was, in many cases, decades old. To gather new data, the researchers looked at hospitalizations from 4,483 different hospitals across the U.S, taking only data from 2012-2014. The researchers then examined the mortality rates for specific medical conditions and surgeries, such as stroke, heart failure or hip replacement. In their analysis of 21.5 million hospitalizations of Medicare patients, the researchers found that the 30-day mortality rates were significantly better at major teaching hospitals, even when patient data was adjusted for age and the severity of illness, or when the hospital data was adjusted for size of hospital, etc. The 7-day and 90-day mortality rates were also better at the major teaching hospitals when compared to non-teaching hospitals. Because of their close association with medical schools, teaching hospitals may be at the...

Before You Board That Plane – Have You Had Your Measles Vaccination?

The  Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) shot is one of the many immunizations recommended by the CDC for healthcare workers and it is on the immunization schedule for children as early as 12 months. However, small outbreaks of Measles continue to occur in the US, with the vast majority of these infections coming from travelers returning from overseas trips. A highly contagious virus, Measles symptoms include high fever, cough and runny nose, followed by a red rash. In about 30% of cases there are serious complications, such as brain inflammation, blindness and pneumonia. Before immunization became common in the United States there were 3-4 million cases of measles each year, but as of 2016, the WHO declared that Measles was no longer endemic in the Americas. A new study from the Annals of Internal Medicine takes a closer look at pre-travel health consultations and the missed opportunities to establish measles immunity in adults travelling overseas. In association with the CDC’s Global TravEpiNet, researchers utilized data from 24 sites where adults born after 1957 filled out a survey regarding their pre-travel medical consultations. From an initial pool of 40,810 travelers, 6,612 travelers were deemed eligible to receive the MMR vaccination at the time of the consultation, meaning that they were in good health and did not report already having the MMR vaccination. Despite their eligibility, over 53% of patients did not go...

Gut Bacteria that May Cause Stroke

New research published in Nature has added convincing data to the theory that the gut bacteria biome may influence our health in many more ways than was previously known – and not just in the stomach. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were studying a rare genetic disorder that causes cerebral cavernous malformations where bubbles filled with blood protrude from vessels in the brain and could leak or pop at any time. Although they identified 3 different gene mutations linked to the disorder, it wasn’t until they moved their lab out of one building and into another that they made the unlikely link between the gene mutation, the brain disorder and gut bacteria. In the course of their study, students followed a research protocol that deleted specific genes in the study mice using a drug injection. Once the gene was deleted, the mice would begin to develop the brain malformations. Occasionally the injection would cause an abscess and then bacteria from the gut would leak into the bloodstream of the mice. But after they moved buildings, only the mice who developed abscesses then went on to develop the brain malformations. Other mice, even though they had the same gene deletion, did not develop the blood bubbles. Finally, the doctors discovered that a lipopolysaccharide, carried on the cell walls of Gram-negative bacteria, was signaling the brain to produce the blood...

Four Reasons to Love your Nurses

There are hundreds of reasons to thank our nurses every day, and not just for National #NursesWeek. Nurses are on the front lines and are often the first to meet our patients. We rely on them to be efficient, brilliant and caring – all at the same time.   Here are our Top Four Reasons to Love Nurses:   They are caretakers – Most nurses enter the nursing profession, not because it is glamorous or pays well, but because they truly compassionate. They want to help sick people get well, but they also want to help doctors to do their job as best they can. Nurses go the extra mile after our patients when we can’t always be there. They are educators – In his book, “Kill as Few Patients as Possible,” Dr. Oscar London explains that “working with a good nurse is one of the great joys of being a doctor. I cannot understand physicians who adopt an adversarial relationship with nurses. They are depriving themselves of an education in hospital wisdom.” Nursing school is not easy, and, just like medical school, it takes a smart and driven person to succeed. Through their broad range of experiences and close contact with patients, nurses have a lot to teach both doctors and almost-doctors. They listen – Usually, our patients’ first interactions are with our nurses. Whether someone walks in with...

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