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A large recent study found that commonly used erectile dysfunction drugs (e.g. Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and Stendra) are associated with an increased risk for 3 types of vision problems: serious retinal detachment (SRD), retinal vascular occlusion (RVO), and ischemic optic neuropathy (ION).

Keep in mind that these are rare vison problems and the risk of developing these problems was elevated in regular users of erectile dysfunction (ED) medications. These ED drugs are phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5Is). Those who developed these eye problems were also more likely to have hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and sleep apnea.

Bottom line: Regular users of erectile dysfunction medications should contact their eye care provider if they develop unusual eye symptoms.

From Medical Xpress: US insurance claims show strong link between erectile dysfunction medications and vision problems

The risk of developing one of three serious eye conditions increases by 85 percent for regular users of common erectile dysfunction (ED) medications such as Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and Stendra, new UBC research has found.

Two of the three conditions had previously been linked to ED medications only by anecdotal case studies. Those links are now confirmed for the first time by a large, epidemiological study, published today in JAMA Ophthalmology.  ...continue reading "Erectile Dysfunction Medications and Increased Risk of Some Eye Problems"

Human lungs. Credit: Wikipedia

More news about microplastics (tiny plastic particles) and where they are showing up in humans. Yesterday's post was about microplastics showing up in human blood, and today's post is about a study finding microplastics deep in the lungs of living people.

Yes, not only do we ingest microplastics in our food and water (especially from water bottles), but we also inhale microplastics in the air. This is worrisome because microplastics accumulate in the body, and at this point long term effects are unknown.

Our bodies are not filtering and getting rid of many of the plastic microparticles that we ingest or breathe in (yes, some also get excreted in our feces). No one thinks this is good, and some early study results are showing harm. Some concerns include inflammation, increased risk of cancer, alterations of the microbiome, endocrine disrupting effects from the chemicals in the microplastics.

The 13 people in the study were undergoing surgery (that's a good time to take samples of lung tissue) in the UK. Samples from 11 people found microplastics, with the most common being polypropylene (in plastic packaging and pipes) and PET (in bottles). The images of microparticles in the lung tissue samples are actually horrifying because it is clear they do not belong there!

By the way, some earlier studies also found microplastics in human lungs. Microplastics are a result of plastic breaking down or shedding tiny particles.

Excerpts from The Guardian: Microplastics found deep in lungs of living people for first time

Microplastic pollution has been discovered lodged deep in the lungs of living people for the first time. The particles were found in almost all the samples analysed.  ...continue reading "Microplastics Found Deep In the Lungs of People"

Tiny particles of plastic, called microplastics, have now been detected in human blood. Yikes! We all know that plastic pollution is a serious problem in the environment, but recent research has been finding it in our food, in the air, in water, in rain, our organs (including our lungs and brain), human placentas, and now in our blood.

The most widely found microplastic particles in the blood were polyethylene terephthalate (PET) (commonly used in disposable water bottles), and polystyrene (PS), which is used for food packaging and polystyrene foam.

The big question is: What are microplastics doing to us, if anything?

The first studies are finding that microplastics are causing inflammation and damage to cells (not good), and are building up in us, but we don't really know much at all. Will it increase the risk of cancer? Scientists are also concerned over the chemicals in the microplastics. For example, if there are endocrine disrupting chemicals in the microplastics, then what effect (if any) are they having on us?

But... plastic production is increasing every year, so we can expect to be exposed to more plastic over time, which means more will get into us and the environment. And the particles will build up.

You may wonder why there are so many little plastic particles out there - it's because plastic breaks apart over time. Even when we do laundry - there are little plastic particles released into the drain water from synthetic fabrics. When we drink from plastic water bottles, little plastic particles released from the bottles are ingested by us. And yes, water bottles are a big source of microplastics ingested by us - up to an additional 90,000 microplastics per year!

Bottom line: try to cut back on your use of plastic, which means buying less of plastic goods - for example, in beverage containers (opt for glass bottles instead), in furniture and toys, in our homes (wood or tile instead of vinyl as much as possible). Avoid drinking from plastic water bottles.

From Smithsonian: Microplastics Detected in Human Blood in New Study

Microplastics, or tiny plastic particles, are ubiquitous pollutants found almost everywhere on earth. Scientists have detected microplastics near the peak of Mount Everest, in the Mariana Trench and even in baby poop. But researchers have now found a new vessel for microplastics: human blood. ...continue reading "Microplastics Are Found In Human Blood"

Interesting and amusing science books can be hard to find, but I found a good one. Science writer Mary Roach's book Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law examines all sorts of human-wildlife conflicts, from murder and manslaughter, to home invasion, to wildlife vandals. Lots of quirky and weird stories.

The big question she examines: What happens when wildlife are the perpetrators of the crime and people are the "victims"?

Researching this book she traveled around the world examining problems in different countries, including bears in Colorado, monkeys in India, poisonous beans in the U.S., vandal gulls at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, and many more. There are discussions of terror devices, poisons, and all sorts of ways humans have tried to deal with "pests". And how many have totally backfired.

There are also examples of how coexistence between human and wildlife is sometimes the best solution. It's humans and their actions that may be the problem (not surprising!). The non-fiction book is Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, by Mary Roach, published by W.W. Norton & Company, 2021.

An NPR interview (Sept. 19, 2021) with Mary Roach where she discusses her book: What Happens When Nature Breaks The Law? Mary Roach Tells You In New Book 'Fuzz'

After reading the recent post on the always fatal prion disease known as "chronic wasting disease" spreading in wild deer and elk in the U.S., a reader asked whether chronic wasting disease (CWD) is also found in cattle. Or whether it could cross over to cattle, and so wind up in the beef we eat. Excellent question.

The studies and medical discussions that I read all agreed that: chronic wasting disease is only found in cervids - deer, elk, reindeer, and moose. Medical opinion is that there is a species barrier, a "thin molecular barrier" preventing crossing over of the prion disease to cattle and humans. Several studies that specifically looked at this issue back this up. Whew, what a relief!

A 2017 study by Canadian researchers reviewed 23 studies looking at "transmissibility" of CWD to humans. They did not find any evidence of transmission of CWD prions to humans in the U.S or Canada, and no evidence supporting the possibility of transmission of CWD prions to humans. However, they did not rule out the possibility that a CWD prion more readily transmissible to humans could emerge over time given sufficiently extensive human exposure, or if a variation in CWD prion strains develops.

A good study by Univ. of Wyoming researchers actually had deer sick with CWD and healthy cattle living side by side for 10 years - sharing food, water, paddocks, and with constant interaction. Another group of 12 calves were given orally (by mouth) 45 g of prion tissue from CWD infected deer and kept indoors (2 per room) in an isolation building after that point. (Note that eating only 1 g of such prion tissue makes deer sick with CWD). There was also a healthy control group not exposed to CWD in any way. All brains were examined after death - and all cattle brains were normal.

Interestingly, this 2018 study did mention that if CWD prion material is injected into cattle brains (which was done in some other studies), then they do go on to develop CWD - but that is not how cattle would be exposed to it naturally. Which is why they did the study trying to mimic natural conditions in which any potential transmission could occur - and found no transmission of CWD.

But...scientists are concerned with possible transmission of CWD prions to humans occurring at some point, for example if variation in CWD prion strains develops. Keep in mind that CWD is spreading year by year throughout the US (which should be of special concern to hunters).  There are many, many questions at this point.

Excerpts from Elizabeth S. Williams et al. (2018) in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases: CATTLE (BOS TAURUS) RESIST CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE FOLLOWING ORAL INOCULATION CHALLENGE OR TEN YEARS' NATURAL EXPOSURE IN CONTAMINATED ENVIRONMENTS

Abstract: We conducted a 10-yr study to establish whether chronic wasting disease (CWD) was readily transmissible to domestic cattle (Bos taurus) following oral inoculation or by cohousing cattle with captive cervids in outdoor research facilities where CWD was enzootic.  ...continue reading "Chronic Wasting Disease Does Not Spread to Cattle and Humans"

Drawing of colon seen from front (the appendix is colored red). Credit: Wikipedia.

What a difference a few years makes in medical opinion in how appendicitis should be treated! Not routinely with surgery (appendectomy), but trying a course of antibiotics first.

Researchers from Duke University Medical Center reviewed studies and found that antibiotics successfully treat up to 70% of uncomplicated appendicitis cases. For this reason the researchers state that antibiotics should be tried first in uncomplicated appendicitis cases. And if needed (e.g., if there are recurrences of appendicitis) surgery can be done.

Back in 2015 a Finnish study found that antibiotics alone can treat the majority of cases of uncomplicated appendicitis in adults. No need for surgery. That same year another study was published finding antibiotics to be a successful treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis in children - and that at one year follow-up 75.6% of the antibiotics group had not had any recurrences of appendicitis.

This is a major shift in how to treat an ailment, and it happened quickly. Most people with appendicitis would definitely (probably) opt for a course of antibiotics rather than surgery and see if that works..

From Science Daily: Antibiotics can be first-line therapy for uncomplicated appendicitis cases

With numerous recent studies demonstrating that antibiotics work as well as surgery for most uncomplicated appendicitis cases, the non-surgical approach can now be considered a routine option, according to a review article in JAMA.  ...continue reading "Treating Appendicitis With Antibiotics"

General Sherman, a giant sequoia tree. Credit: Wikipedia, Kimon Berlin

Trees that are several thousand years old in California's Sequoia National Park are in danger of being destroyed in this month's wildfires. Things are currently so bad that the base of some of the world's largest trees are being wrapped in aluminum fire-resistant blankets.

The trees being wrapped are giant sequoias, and the largest tree of all is called General Sherman. This tree is about 2200 to 2700 years old, 275 feet tall, over 36 feet in diameter at the base, and with a circumference of 102.6 at the base. (Almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty!).

Giant sequoia trees are adapted to fire, but both drought conditions and fires are getting more intense (climate change!) and can overwhelm them. Last year's Castle Fire destroyed an estimated 7500 to 10,600 mature giant sequoia trees that ranged in age from hundreds to 3000 years old. This is about 10 to 14% of these trees on Earth!

Giant sequoia base wrapped in fire-proof blanket. Credit: National Park Service, Sept. 16, 2021

From The Guardian: World’s largest tree wrapped in fire-resistant blanket as California blaze creeps closer

As flames crept closer to California’s cherished sequoia trees firefighters took an unusual step to protect them, wrapping the giant bases in fire-resistant blankets.

The shiny material that helps quell flames, commonly used to protect structures, is rarely applied to natural features, but crews fighting the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia national park said they are doing everything possible to protect the iconic trees. ...continue reading "Giant Sequoia Trees Wrapped In Fire Resistant Blankets"