Tag: Health Communication

A Cell [organ] Therapy raises moral and ethical problem?

Recently, a baby girl with cancer was saved by a cell therapy untested in humans according to an article published in the New York Times. The girl, Layla Richards, had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that “starts from the early version of white blood cells in the bone marrow” invading the blood and quickly spread to other parts of body. Although it is hard to say whether this girl was cured due to the short period of time (only a few months) in remission, she was rescued by a cell therapy, said Waseem Qasim, one of the doctors who treated the girl at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. “It is a remarkable outcome” because several conventional therapies did not work, such as chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and a new type of biotech drug, Dr. Qasim said.

However, there is an intense debate on whether the federal government should fund research on transplanting partly human organs or cells from animals to patients to treat illness.

There are two branches of cell therapy [organ transplantation]. One is legitimate and established, the other one is dangerous and raises ethical and moral questions. The first one is transplanting human cells [organs] from a donor to a patient; while the second one is injecting animal cells [organs] or partly human cells [organs] to treat illness.

In late September, the National Institutes of Health declared a moratorium on funding research which studies the combining cells or tissues (chimeras) or genetic information (hybrids) from partly human and partly nonhuman. NIH officials stated that the ethical and moral questions raised by this kind of research needed to be evaluated. Françoise Baylis, a bioethicist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, said that this early human chimera “would introduce inexorable moral confusion in our existing relationships with nonhuman animals, and in our future relationships with part-human hybrids and chimeras.” Moreover, Hank Greely, a bioethicist at Stanford University, said “this will somehow give the animal a human consciousness, human mental capabilities.”

However, there are very effective strategies that would alleviate the concerns discussed above, said Sean Wu, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University. Additionally, some prominent scientists worry this moratorium may hinder the development of this promising field of research, as a result, many patients may die from the shortage of this technology. “We don’t have enough organs for transplantation,” and “every 30 seconds of every day that passes there is a person that dies that could be cured by using tissues or organs for transplantation,” said Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor of gene expression at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


Photo credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/06/business/a-novel-cell-therapy-untested-in-humans-saves-baby-with-cancer.html?ref=health&_r=0


Travel safe: health prep before you jet

Are you planning any extravagant trips this holiday season? Maybe exploring the ancient city of Petra, or hiking through the steep ridges of Patagonia, or testing your bargaining skills in shops found in the Colaba Causeway in Mumbai. Wherever you are set to go, make sure you and your traveling buddies and hosts get the most out of the experience by finding out what you need to do to prepare your body for foreign territories and tasty treats. Some countries will provide a detailed list of all the vaccinations and recommended medicines to carry with you before you enter or acquire your visa, but always double check sources you trust.

The CDC’s Travelers’ Health page is a great up-to-date resource for all your health travel advice. The World Health Organization also has some helpful tips. Also, make sure you are aware of any recent outbreaks or health concerns your destination is dealing with around the time of your travel. Try to identify key resources (your country’s Embassy, trusted health clinics, and pharmacies) in your immediate area, in case of an emergency.

And as always – be a courteous traveler. Recognize that you are no longer in your own country and things may be very different. Be respectful of the people and local customs and you will surly have a great time! The Lonely Planet is a fun source of information about all things historical and cultural – just one example of many.

Happy traveling! 🙂

Non-vaccinators: Implications for Health Communication Intervention

If you wanted to deliver an effective and persuasive message to an audience, what are some of the things you may consider well before broadcasting your message? Certainly you would want to be sure you understood the history of the topic, the pros, the cons, and alternative solutions/courses of action. But before even crafting your message, it would be wise to understand your audience. An audience is rarely just one cohesive body of like-minded individuals who hold the same attitudes, beliefs, and values regarding a particular issue. An audience often has multiple segments, each with a unique profile. This idea of segmentation was first introduced into the marketing field as a way to increase return on investment by tailoring a product to the unique needs and desires of subgroups of people (for a review of audience segmentation and how it relates to health campaigns see Slater, 1996).

Segmentation has been a useful tool for communicating issues related to health. Although segmenting audiences is as much a science as it is an art form, tailoring communication interventions with audience segments in mind increases the likelihood of a campaigns success.

Researchers from Rutgers University and Aachen University and the University of Erfurt, both in Germany, teamed up to offer a segmentation strategy on an international issue: delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination. In their article, the researchers review reasons why people do not vaccinate, and offer an addition to the World Health Organization- SAGE vaccine hesitancy working group’s “Three C Model” (complacency, lack in confidence, and convenience issues).

  1. Complacency “perceived risks of vaccine-preventable diseases are low and vaccination is not deemed a necessary preventive action” (SAGE vaccine hesitancy working group, 2013)
  2. Convenience: “The quality of the service (real and/or perceived) and the degree to which vaccination services are delivered at a time and place and in a way that is considered appealing, affordable, convenient and comfortable, also affects the decision to vaccinate. Vaccination convenience and complacency are also determined by the priority that an individual places on vaccination.” (SAGE vaccine hesitancy working group, 2013)
  3. Confidence: “Trust in the effectiveness and safety of vaccines and in the system that delivers them, including the reliability and competence of the health services and health professionals and having trust in the motivations of the policy‐makers who decide which vaccines are needed and when they are needed. Vaccination confidence exists on a continuum, ranging from zero‐to‐100% confidence. Vaccination confidence is only one of a number of factors that affect an individual’s decision to accept a vaccine.” (SAGE vaccine hesitancy working group, 2013)
  4. Calculation: This C, added by Betsch and colleagues, refers to those who do not have strong preexisting attitudes regarding vaccination, thus seek out information about the pros and cons to ultimately make a decision that leads to a decision. For example, calculators may choose not to vaccinate if harm from infection is perceived to be lower than harm from vaccination, or if they have conflicting information (See Betsch et al., 2015 for more information).

The researchers then developed a table highlighting ways to effectively intervene by audience segment (the Four C’s). You can view the table here. The table is nicely organized into different types of intervention (informational interventions (i.e. health communication campaigns); structural interventions; and interventions to support self-control and implementation).

As the authors’ state in their article, more research is needed to determine which types of interventions are most effective by group, which is an effort that is strongly supported by this audience segmentation work.

Research Spotlight: Tom Linden, M.D.


Dr. Tom Linden, of the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), spoke with the Upstream writing team recently to share advice and provide guidance for writers who are new to the blog medium.

Linden, who has been awarded the title of Glaxo Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Medical Journalism, teaches courses in medical and science journalism for undergraduate and graduate students at UNC and has been director of the Medical and Science Journalism Master’s Program for 18 years.

With an extensive background in both psychiatric medicine and broadcast journalism, Linden offers aspiring health communicators a unique perspective of translating complex academic health information into practical knowledge for the general public to understand and apply in their daily lives.

To do this, Linden encourages health communication bloggers to incorporate basic journalism skills into their writing. He says the most important thing for a writer—using any medium—is to be mindful of their audience. Having an idea of the community that’s reading the material provides a framework for writers to know what kind of stories their readers find interesting.

Linden suggests five tips for creating interesting blog posts. First, he encourages writers to find fascination value with their topic. In other words, “Is it inherently interesting?” If the answer is no, it is unlikely to be with other readers as well. Next, he suggests selecting a topic that has a large audience. Writers can do this by asking, “Is my topic popular among many people?” Increasing audience size increases readership and possible sharing using other social media sites.

Third, he encourages writers to be aware of the importance factor when considering a blog topic. “Something can still be important without being fascinating or drawing a large audience, and that’s okay,” says Linden.

Another factor to consider when using journal articles as a starting point is the reliability of results. For example, finding a published article that includes a small sample size might be worth blogging about because the validity of the article is in question. He encourages writers to be on the lookout for limitations within articles because readers will find the contrast interesting. Finally, he says for writers to ensure their posts are timely. If it’s being talked about in the main media, chances are it would make a newsworthy blog post.

Linden believes adopting these techniques will improve the quality of posts for reaching a wider audience, particularly within the health community.

A simple message can make all the difference.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

This is an effort for which everyone can contribute, and it doesn’t require a monetary donation or time spent volunteering. Just take a moment and think about your friends, your loved ones, even your acquaintances. Can you think of a time when any of these people did something that made your life easier or said something that made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Did you return the favor or let them know their support mattered to you? You see, this post is not about preventing suicide directly. It’s about nurturing and building those social connections that keep us moving forward.

In this age of hectic schedules, endless email, and constant travel, it’s hard enough to even find the time to sleep. BUT, giving someone that same sense of belonging, or increased sense of self-worth that they once gave to you only takes a second. It’s as simple as a text message, a phone call, or a cup of coffee. By strengthening your social support network, not only are you helping others, you are helping yourself. When our network is strong, we are strong.

A simple message, smile, or hug can make all the difference in someone’s day. If you notice someone struggling, find the time to listen to them. Help them find the solution to their problem. Each individual makes choices based on a complex web of experience, emotions, and expectations. Accept that some things are out of your control and you cannot hold yourself accountable.

 But never underestimate the power of a phone call.

Please be responsible when discussing this issue on social media. Click here to access the NIH guidebook for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention.


For prevention resources, click the links below:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://www.afsp.org/

Active Minds: http://www.activeminds.org/our-programming/awareness-campaigns/suicide-prevention-month

National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml#part_149729

Research Spotlight: Dr. Allison Lazard

The Upstream writers recently had the pleasure of meeting one of the newest faculty additions to UNC School of Media and Journalism, Dr. Allison Lazard. Joining UNC from the University of Texas Austin, Dr. Lazard primarily focuses her research on the role of visual communication in health communication. For instance, she studies how interactive and visual design affect health and wellness campaigns. Her background in design and professional industry experience gives her a fantastic perspective and allows her to ask questions like, what design features are most influential for first impressions? What makes “good” design that leads to favorable evaluations? Are the responses visceral (instinctive) or reflective (cognitive)?

Dr. Lazard shared some of her research with us, describing work on nutritional websites. Because about 80% of Americans look for information online, she conducted a content analysis for homepage nutrition information regarding visual complexity, display complexity, prototypicality, craftsmanship, and more. With her knowledge in both communication theory and visual design, she was able to analyze these factors and make suggestions to help make nutrition and health information websites both more effective and visually appealing.

More recently, she has done work with the power of photo manipulation for food advertising. Do foods appear “healthier” based on the visual depiction? Do foods appear healthier if the picture is brighter? Cleaner?  These findings could contribute to the way food is represented not only in commercial food advertising, but in health promotion efforts as well.

Welcome to UNC, Dr. Lazard!


Cold, allergies, or flu?

It’s about that time of year again when everyone is getting “sick.” But is it really “sick” or is it allergies? I often find myself struggling to distinguish between cold and allergy symptoms, so I did a bit of research that helped me answer my own questions (just allergies) that I’d like to pass on (just in case others are asking the same questions). The NIH and Mayo Clinic have some great resources about colds vs. allergies vs. flu.

If you have allergies, you WILL have:

  • sneezing
  • itchy nose, eyes
  • runny/stuffy nose
  • watery eyes

But allergies will NOT cause:

  • general aches/pains
  • extreme exhaustion
  • headache (not usually)
  • chest discomfort (unless you have asthma)

What are allergies, anyway?

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, an allergic reaction starts in the immune system. Your immune system basically identifies an otherwise harmless allergen as a threatening invader. To protect you, the immune system “overreacts” by forcing your body to produce histamines (now you know why Benadryl is called an “anti-histamine”) and other chemicals to make you sneeze and snot the threatening invaders out of your body.

But, as always, if you aren’t sure, you should still talk to your doctor. Wouldn’t hurt to get that flu shot, while you’re at it 😉



Bias on using HIV-blocking drug

The Boston attorney, as a gay man, thought he was discriminated for having HIV-blocking drug.

The attorney tried to ask his doctor to prescribe Truvada, an HIV-blocking drug, to be responsible for preventing himself from being infected by HIV. But he failed to get long-term care insurance from Mutual of Omaha. The reason why Mutual of Omaha turned him down is it does not cover anyone who takes the drug. As a result, the man will sue the insurer for the discrimination of being gay. He already filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination this Wednesday.

According to the article published in the associated press, the man said:”I thought maybe they misunderstood me. I’m HIV-negative. I’m not HIV-positive. I was taking Truvada as a prophylactic.” The objective for him to sue the insurer is to ensure that people like him will not be worried about the discrimination for using Truvada.

Truvada, a preventive drug, was approved for reducing the risk of being infected by HIV among uninfected people by FDA. Moreover, in accordance with the data published by CDC, Truvada is able to largely reduce the risk in people at-risk.

However, there are a group of critics of Truvada claim that the use of Truvada may increase the prevalence of risky sexual behavior such as condom-less sex, though it is effective to some extent.

What do you think about the advantages and disadvantages of HIV-blocking drug? Will it really increase risky sexual behaviors in people at-risk?

Photo credit:http://www.wehoville.com/2014/04/08/worth-read-truvada-lifesaver-party-drug/

Watching TV prods children to eat more

A newly published article in Journal of Consumer Psychology illustrates that “fat” cartoon characters may result in children eating more junk food. In order to address whether children exhibit behavioral priming effects from stereotype exposure, Margaret C. Campbell et al. conducted three experiments.

What is behavioral priming effect? It is an implicit memory effect in behavior. The exposure to one stimulus influences the subsequent behaviors. For behavioral priming among adults, considerable research has examined that the exposure to a stereotype leads to increase in stereotype-consistent behavior. For instance, adults ate more candy and cookies after seeing characters overweight.

In this new study, researchers aimed to study the existence of stereotype-consistent behavior among children after exposing children to a stereotype.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 2.24.59 PM

With the hypothesis that stereotype priming effects exist on children’s food consumption, this new study recruited 6-14-year old children and exposed them to either a normal weight or overweight cartoon character prime.  Children who were exposed to the rotund cartoon character took 3.8 candies on average, compared with 1.7 taken candies by children who saw the lean character.

What’s more interesting in this new study is the function of health knowledge among children. According to the findings from the study, children who were asked healthy habits before doing the test ate fewer cookies than those were asked healthy habits after the test.

Therefore, just like what Margaret C. Campbell said, parents can help children making food choices by reminding children of health knowledge.

Photo credit: http://langraph.com/products-page/opposites/opposites/

Snoring may represent sleep apnea

Sleep apnea, a condition always associated with obesity and often diagnosed in adults, is characterized by pauses in breathing or infrequent breathing during sleep.

Why snoring may represent sleep apnea? Typically, snoring, one of the reactions of the brain to take over or restart breathing, happens when people have pauses in breathing or infrequent breathing during sleep. To be specific, when an individual’s airway is temporarily obstructed by enlarged tonsils or adenoids or both in the back of the throat, the rising blood level of carbon dioxide prompts the brain to take over and restart breathing accompanied by snoring.

Traditionally, the snoring is always diagnosed among adults or overweight children. However, children, young and lithe, also snore during their sleep. As a result, children are suffering from high chance of getting sleep apnea. According to an article published in The New York Times, between 1 percent and 3 percent of children have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea becomes a common problem among children.

Based on the findings from the study published by Dr. David Gozel in 2008, children with frequently and loudly snoring during early childhood are” at increased risk for lower academic performance later in life.” They are hard to awaken from their naps. And their memory, cognitive development, and the ability to learn also suffer a lot.

Therefore, snoring is not a common phenomenon among children. It may bring adverse consequences.

Photo credit:http://www.easybreathe.com/blog/child-obstructive-sleep-apnea/