Increasing Zika Virus Outbreaks

Increasing Zika Virus Outbreaks

A Global Threat

by Amy Chang

There has been a recent outbreak of a dangerous virus carried by the Aedes mosquito, the Zika virus. It is most commonly found in communities with poor living conditions and health hazards, causing the symptoms of fever, itchy skin, pounding headache, achy joints, and red eyes. Recently, there has been an outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil and subsequent reported cases more locally in California and Kansas.

The Aedes mosquito is responsible for this deadly virus.

The virus has been linked with other diseases, such as microcephaly and Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). Microcephaly is a birth defect caused by abnormal or arrested brain growth in the fetus, which often leads to early death or developmental problems. The Zika virus has also been linked to the Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological disease that attacks the nervous and immune system, causing paralysis and trauma. This causes pain and weakness in muscles and limbs, which develops rapidly and sometimes causes death.

There has also been one confirmed case in San Francisco. On February 4th, the San Francisco Department of Public Health reported one confirmed case of a patient who contracted the virus while traveling in Central America. However, the virus is not circulating in San Francisco and should not be cause of any alarm for residents.

Due to the recent outbreaks, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement about how to prevent transmission while the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a public health emergency of international concern. Locally, the San Francisco Health Department also issued advisories to health care providers, announcing the CDC travel alert for people traveling to areas with high risk of Zika virus transmission. Pregnant women should be especially wary of traveling to these countries. The CDC has also recommended a waiting period for women who are trying to get pregnant and have visited a Zika-infected region due to the surge of birth defects in Brazil that have been linked to the virus.

The CDC released a warning for traveling to areas with high amounts of Zika virus cases.

Students should take necessary precautions when making travel plans¬, especially when traveling to areas where mosquitoes are commonly found. It is important for students to be aware of these international public health concerns, even if they may not directly affect the Berkeley area. It is important to be aware of global health in an interconnected world because a health threat elsewhere can lead to a health threat nearby. As Berkeley students, we should take a role in global health, learning about current events and what we can do to remedy these problems.

ABC News. ABC News Network, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2016.
Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.

Put Down Your Plastic Water Bottle

Put Down Your Plastic Water Bottle

The Dangers of BPA

by Nikki Sherry

Smoking causes lung cancer. Sleep and exercise are important for your health. Loud music can damage your eardrums. Plastic water bottles are not good for you. What is one similarity between all of these statements? They are all facts with supporting evidence. However unlike the first few statements, society is not doing much to fight the ingestion of dangerous chemicals from plastic in daily use, notwithstanding the major negative health implications resulting from the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA).

What is BPA?

Many consumer goods in today’s society are composed of plastic containing a mixture of chemicals, including the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). Some of these products include plastic water bottles, sports equipment, cosmetics, medical equipment, eyeglass lenses, CDs, DVDs and even coatings of food and drink cans. Since BPA is a chemical class of compounds known as endocrine disruptors, it interferes with the production, secretion, and function of our bodies’ natural hormones. By deregulating the body’s natural hormonal balance, BPA then triggers unprecedented hormonal changes in the body, including thyroid, estrogen and prostate changes. The disturbances present serious health implications.

thumbnailHealth Implications

Researchers have found that BPA increases the risk for a myriad of health problems. The American Heart Association conducted a study demonstrating that BPA consumption was linked to a quick rise in blood pressure. Two hours after drinking from a plastic water bottle, participants’ BPA levels were 16 times higher than before. As this chemical is an estrogen-mimicking hormone, studies conducted at Harvard Medical School in particular have suggested that it is a threat to women, linked to infertility and emotional problems. Additionally, BPA particles have been labelled as obesogens, which are hormone-mimicking pollutants that turn precursor cells into fat cells in the fetus. In other words, a mother’s exposure to this chemical while pregnant may carry potential health problems to the fetus. There are various other health consequences associated with BPA, which are shown in Figure 1. Many of the major public health problems facing society today and in the future, including obesity, infertility, and premature puberty, are directly influenced by BPA.

Some Statistics

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, BPA represents one of the highest volumes of chemicals produced worldwide. In 2011, it was estimated that around 10 billion pounds were produced during the manufacturing of plastic. As a result, the overwhelming consequence of airborne BPA is that 95% of adults and 93% of children have BPA circulating in their blood (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Clearly this issue does not have a simple solution. In order to eliminate BPA from our society, more people need to be educated on its negative effects on our health for current and future generations. But fortunately, there are simple steps that you as a student can take to safeguard your own health. Next time you go to buy a water bottle at GBC, or are tempted to purchase the supermarket’s cheap bulk pack of water bottles, use a reusable BPA-free water bottle instead.

Hungry for More

Hungry for More
by Daniela Morales

College is a time for change. A change of location, social life, and overall lifestyle. But what many people do not realize is that with this switch comes a change of diet as well. Most everyone is aware of the infamous “freshmen fifteen”; however there are more dangers than just gaining weight. College students have an intense schedule: going from class to class, attending meetings, and “studying” into the late hours of the night. All these activities often lead to eating less or even skipping meals, which is ultimately detrimental to one’s wellness. One of the largest issues that students face in their diets is the lack of essential food groups. Two of the most insufficient food groups among college students’ diets today are fruits and vegetables.

According to CDC guidelines, two to two and a half cups of fruit and two and a half to three and a half cups of vegetables should be consumed a day. However, many students may not even be eating one serving a day. Fruits and vegetables are often not easily accessible and are costly for students. So what is UC Berkeley doing to prevent students’ lack of those vital fruits and veggies? Shawn Lapean, Executive Director of Cal Dining—part of UC Berkeley’s Residential and Student Services Program—says that UC Berkeley dining is moving towards a more plant-focused menu. Cal Dining and all of the locations that collaborate with the program are working to align with the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative. The program’s goal is to “be transparent”, “reward better agricultural practices”, and “focus on whole, minimally processed foods” among other objectives. A thorough compilation of the Collaborative’s guidelines can be found here.

Along with striving for a more vegetarian-friendly, plant-based diet, Lapean also stated that fresh fruits and vegetables are offered at all of their facilities for every meal. Sustainability, seasonality, and cost are the three main components that determine which fruits are available in the dining halls and at Cal Dining sponsored vendors. How-ever, while fruits and vegetables are offered at these establishments, they may not be cost-effective for students on or off a meal plan. Fruit cups can range from $3.95 to about $4.95 depending on the fruit and may be a second thought when compared to a GBC favorite, the $7 burrito. Students may have also seen vendors selling mangoes, strawberries, and other produce in front of the Golden Bear Cafe Mondays through Thursdays. These items can also be purchased with meal points, but will also be a bit more costly. If you choose to spend your meal points at a dining hall and are searching for a fruit to snack on, bananas, oranges, pears, and apples are served in all the dining commons year-round. Other fruits make appearances in different seasons. The list of fruit availability for the dining halls can be found here.

Although there are over 3,320 undergraduates with a meal plan here on campus and “more optional meal plans to choose from than any other college food service,” ac-cording to Lapean, there are other options when looking for affordable produce to round off that balanced diet. Some inexpensive grocery stores in the Berkeley area that are known for their produce include the Berkeley Produce Center on Shattuck, and the Berkeley Student Food Collective on Bancroft. These locations make it possible for stu-dents that are off a meal plan, or are not willing to pay as much for their produce, to get the recommended values of fruits and vegetables in their diet.

While it is difficult to fit a meal into an already busy day, student’s can do their best to meet the new USDA dietary standards. If there are other dietary restrictions or obstacles that students would like help addressing, there are resources on campus! The Tang Center offers such nutrition resources, and Cal Dining is in the process of hiring a new dietician to help manage the nutrition education program. With many options and resources both on and off campus, students can take a step in the right direction if they choose to do so.

Diabetes: Its Threat and Social Implications

Diabetes: Its Threat and Social Implications

by Jacob Deme

Diabetes is a chronic illness in which the body cannot produce or correctly utilize insulin. Due to this dysfunction, patients with diabetes have a high blood sugar level, which in turn can result in serious health risks such as heart disease and blindness. Not only are there severe, and sometimes lethal, consequences of diabetes, but also this illness affects millions of people across the nation yearly. Approximately eight percent of the United States population has diabetes. To understand diabetes as more than an illness, but an indicator of larger social issues, we must investigate just who comprises this eight percent, and what factors place these patients in this category.

Utilizing the statistics from Alameda County in 2014 as a sample population, it is found that the diabetic rate is around six percent of the population, lower than the ratio across California, which lies at around eight percent. Despite this more prospective positive report, the concern lies in the specific distribution of the six percent across racial and economic demographics. Alameda County’s Native American population accounts for over a third of diabetes cases, followed by African Americans for a tenth, and the rest of patients split closely among Caucasians, Asians, and Hispanics. Factors that would contribute to such a distribution include diet, access to healthy food options, and physiological predisposition.

Evidence that these factors are truly at play can be found in the breakdown of diabetes cases by economic status. Alameda County reports that those who earn an income less than twice the Federal Poverty Line are twice as predisposed to being diagnosed with diabetes. Shocking numbers such as these both support that economic status is a major factor in propensity to develop diabetes, as well as indicate there is a real problem within our society for allowing the situation to be so. The Harvard School of Public Health released data that suggests if a family engaged in an unhealthy diet wished to transition into a healthier one, food costs would increase by over $500 per year. This would be a staggering burden that these at-risk families would not be able to shoulder.

There is a biological factor that plays into diabetes risk that, while not usually as prominent as the economic hindrances, play a significant role in the propensity to develop diabetes. A standing theory explaining the link between susceptibility to adult onset diabetes and its uneven distributions among different ethnicities describes the “thrifty gene.” According to this theory, the most at-risk group for type II diabetes in the United States, Native Americans, are more susceptible to type II diabetes due to physiological inheritance of the body’s affinity for a diet extremely rich in fiber. If this gene is at play, then it is theorized that the diets of the Native American people changed much faster than physiology adapted to properly digest and process the foods of a modern American diet.

While our understanding of the cause of diabetes has deepened immensely over the recent years, it yet remains a dangerous threat to the health of the people of the United States. Whether it is genetics or society maintaining diabetes’ position as one of the leading causes of death in America, it is clear that there are still integral issues with treatment methods. In order to make progress in diabetes management, we must investigate ways to prevent the prominent causes of this diseases from playing their part in the killing of millions of people every year.



Norovirus Outbreak at UC Berkeley

Norovirus Outbreak at UC Berkeley
by Erica Munson

Midterm season is a common time for students to be stressed out, having little capacity to focus on anything but studying. Ironically, by centering their attention solely upon their studies, students can forget to take care of their health and end up becoming too sick to even pick up a pencil. Students can put their health, and the health of others, at risk by ignoring proper hygiene, such as opting to use hand sanitizers as opposed to soap and water when washing hands, or by attending class when sick. Failure to take care of basic health care guidelines can result in a higher chance of viral and bacteria infection. In fact, at UC Berkeley, the Tang Center has confirmed three norovirus cases out of a possible twenty-nine reported.

Norovirus, also commonly known as the “winter vomiting bug,” can be spread via contaminated food or water, an infected person or contaminated surfaces. The virus results in acute gastroenteritis, which is the inflammation of the stomach, intestines, or both. Anyone can be infected multiple times, but the virus can be the most serious for young children or older adults. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), norovirus is responsible for 19-21 million illnesses, 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations, and 570-800 deaths in the U.S. every year.

According to the Tang Center spokeswoman, Kim Lapean, the city of Berkeley Public Health Division is investigating the outbreak. Currently, there are not any ties between the outbreak and specific events, locations or restaurants. The university is recommending that sick students stay home and avoid contact with others as a way to curb the virus before it spreads further.

This highly contagious virus has caught its fair share of attention — publications such as the local CBS SF Bay Area and the LA Times have already expressed concern. A source tells us that the outbreak even caused the Stanford University Track and Field Coach to seriously consider withdrawing from last week’s meet at UC Berkeley in order to preserve his athletes’ health.

The CDC recommends proper hand-washing and general cleanliness as methods to avoid becoming infected with norovirus. In addition, it is important to keep surrounding areas thoroughly cleaned and to avoid contact with those who appear sick.

A Glimpse into the Real World of Global Health

A Glimpse into the Real World of Global Health

Undergraduate and graduate students compete at UC Berkeley’s first ever Intermural Global Health Case Competition

by Rachel Crowley

On February 27th, undergraduate and graduate students across multiple disciplines came together for a single reason: to address the smoking epidemic in the North Sumatra region of Indonesia. During UC Berkeley’s first ever Intramural Global Health Case Competition held by the Center for Global Health, participating students were given the week-long task of devising a presentation that delivered a cost-effective, time-efficient, and clear plan for decreasing the prevalence of smoking in Indonesia. Winning teams from various intramural competitions around the world will then come together to compete at the international competition at Emory University in April.

Students were first asked to create a team that included students from at least three different colleges on campus, such as Haas School of Business, the College of Natural Resources, and the College of Letters and Science, in order to promote integrative thinking and create global health solutions that encompass various points of view. Once the prompt of the competition was released the Sunday prior to the competition, nine teams began putting their passion for global health into action, working to create a winning solution and presentation.

On the day of the competition, each team presented for 13 minutes and competed for a spot in the final round. During the final round, the judges deliberated to choose a single winning team after hearing the top three finalists’ presentations again. In the end, the team comprised of members Aarti Kumar, Hemaxi Desai, Nehaa Khadka, Jennifer Liu, Anchal Ahuja, and Tyler Schmeckpeper was chosen because they delivered an effective solution and clear presentation incorporating the use of education, media outreach, and community collaboration to decrease smoking in Indonesia. The team also created a visual of an actual mobile app that they hoped to implement in the North Sumatra Region during their presentation.

Each team was competing for the opportunity to move on to the International Global Health Case Competition held at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. It was not until 2010 that Emory University opened up the competition to include students from other U.S. universities. The overall goal of this competition is to increase awareness of 21st century global health issues and promote the development of solutions through the minds of graduate and undergraduate students from various schools and disciplines.

Through this experience, participating students were able to gain exposure to the real life processes of global health decision-making and teamwork with representatives from various disciplines.

“I gained a more worldly perspective, especially academically. Working with people from so many different fields helped me realize that there are many sides to a problem,” said Aruna Menon, a team member from one of the finalist teams.

The competition stressed the importance of collaboration in global health and showed the potential and passion of many students to create health change.

“I thought that I was looking at some of the future leaders in the global health space and they are not necessarily going to be physicians or health care professionals or Ph.Ds… but they are all going to take a big role in addressing big global health issues like tobacco cessation,” said Dr. Phuoc Le, a judge at the event.

This year’s winning team will be competing at the upcoming international competition this April with the hope of carrying on the legacy of the international competition’s winning group from UC Berkeley last year.

Water Quality and Public Health in Flint and the Bay Area

Water Quality and Public Health in Flint and the Bay Area
by Erica Munson

Think about how often you take a shower, wash your hands or simply consume water. We oftentimes take our access to water for granted and seldom think about the mechanics behind getting the water from its source to our everyday routine. It is very common to adopt a blind trust when it comes to consuming the water provided for us. Now think about what would happen if you did all the usual aforementioned tasks (taking a shower, washing your hands, etc.), but, unknowingly, you did them using contaminated water.

Lead exposure can have many negative effects on the cognition and behavior of children through their central nervous system. This fact has been known for centuries and while public health efforts have greatly decreased exposure, these efforts, unfortunately, were unable to save Flint, Michigan from catastrophe. Historically, Flint has always struggled economically as studies show that four out of ten families are currently living below the poverty line. As a method to cut spending, officials decided to change their water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. However, the officials were oblivious to the fact that the Flint River is nearly twenty times more corrosive than Lake Huron, allowing it to be more able to dissolve materials such as lead. Eighteen months passed before the city took action to fix the problem. However, the damage was already done. Now, the city not only has to pay millions in repair costs, but it also has to deal with the potential neural disabilities caused by lead exposure, especially in children.

Locally, it is very unlikely that we will ever have to face the same issue. Dr. Charlotte Smith, a lecturer and water quality expert at UC Berkeley, informed us that, “we don’t have the same problem here as the root cause of the problem in Flint.” Courtesy of the East Municipal Utility District’s program in the 1980s, our local area’s lead service lines have been removed. While this realization certainly warrants a sigh of relief, water quality still remains a serious topic of consideration. Dr. Smith references the Annual Water Quality Report from the East Bay Municipal Utility District as a good source for individuals seeking more information about our local water supply.

Alongside water quality, it is important to be aware of all aspects of public health in our community. Dr. Smith states that, “because lead in water isn’t an issue for this area, that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues related to lead. In fact, lead in paint chips is still a significant route of exposure in this area.” While Berkeley and surrounding communities will not have to face lead exposure through water, it is still possible that the same issue could arise via paint chips. Our communities need to make themselves aware of all aspects of public health issues so that an unexpected disaster, such as the water crisis in Flint, does not repeat itself.



Work Cited

Bellinger, David C. “Lead Contamination in Flint – An Abject Failure to Protect Public Health — NEJM.” New England Journal of Medicine. N.p., 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.