The Grossest Jobs in Public Health

In the public health field, we deal with a lot of things that are, shall we say, unsavory. In fact, we’ll just call them outright gross. In honor of Halloween, here are the top 5:

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Catching Criminals Red-Palmed

Regions of a the palm (left) and identifying characteristics (right). (Photos courtesy of FBI)

Regions of a the palm (left) and identifying characteristics (right). (Photos courtesy of FBI)

A jogger found the bloodstained and filthy body of Kristopher Olinger by the side of the road one September morning in 1997. The last time anyone saw the 17-year-old from Pacific Grove, CA was at midnight, when he went out to photograph the ocean for a school project. The police investigation determined that he had been carjacked, kidnapped, and stabbed. His abductors drove him to a dirt turnout along a deserted coastal road and threw him over a 15-foot cliff into the ocean below. Olinger spent the next hour climbing back up the cliff, only to expire at the top from his multiple knife wounds.

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The Affordable Care Act and Public Health

Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA). Whatever you choose to call it, President Obama’s key legislative victory of his presidency introduces major changes in the way Americans manage their healthcare. Along with this legislation has been an avalanche of questions and, to my chagrin, politics. So. Many. Politics.

What I would like to do right now is to strip down the ACA to more understandable bits and how this fits into the public health world.

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The Cassini spacecraft, which is currently traveling around Saturn taking all kinds of beautiful pictures, continues to outdo itself.


Saturn is gorgeous and stunning just by looking into a small telescope here on Earth, but when viewed like this, it’s breathtaking. My favorite part of the picture is the view of Saturn’s super weird hexagonal clouds on the North Pole, which continues to vex (hex?) astronomers as to the exact cause of this beautiful mathey shapey thing.

Movie Review – Gravity

You know, going to the movies is a rarity for me. It’s even more rare for me to shell out extra money to see a movie in 3D, and even MORE rare to pay extra extra money to see an IMAX movie. So I had a “treat yo self” moment yesterday and went to see the new movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, in IMAX 3D. Apparently I wasn’t alone.

Before getting into the review, I have a love/hate relationship with movies set in outer space. I love that space movies exist to further interest in space–I do not love the fact that 95% of them are so ridiculous and are centered nowhere near the truth. I’m looking at you, Armageddon! With that being said, I always have to temper my expectations when I see space-themed movies. But I gotta say…my expectations were raised seeing the Gravity trailer:

So was it worth it?

Yes. YES. Freaking YES. End of review.

Okay, okay, not quite the end of the review. But based on the visuals, which were absolutely stunning, this movie would be worth seeing. It was gorgeous. Stunning. Breathtaking. And, to my surprise, most of the visuals were accurate, i.e., that’s how material acts in space. It was absolutely worth shelling out a few extra bucks for IMAX and 3D. In fact, I highly recommend it. While I was thinking how I would feel if I watched the movie in a regular theater, or even at home, well, that’s where my thoughts change, but just a little bit.

First of all, there are some inaccuracies. SPOILER ALERT: You can’t just jet over to the International Space Station while your shuttle is attached to the Hubble Space Telescope. Different altitudes, different orbits. You also can’t take a Soyuz capsule over to the Chinese space station. All of these things are inaccurate. But you know what? WHO CARES because the movie is still awesome. Also, Sandra Bullock really does an incredible job as well.

There was a feature in a recent Entertainment Weekly issue that showed everyone how the movie was made. Reading that before seeing the movie only enhanced my Gravity-watching experience. It really is a technical marvel and well worth it.

And now we have reached the end of my movie critic soapbox.

The Coming Crisis: Where are the Antibiotics?

This past Monday, one of the top news stories of the day dealt with a topic that, in my opinion, doesn’t  get enough coverage: drug resistance. The CDC released a report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013, which takes a look at germs that are resistant to antibiotics, one of the greatest public health discoveries in human history.

I like when health officials and scientists are blunt. Sometimes we get too caught up in minutiae and specificity that we lose our core message. Honestly, getting your message across to the public and to the right people is hard, and the vast minority of scientists and public health officials are not good at it. At all. However, when someone has a clear message, like this statement from Dr. Tom Frieden, the Director of the CDC, I take notice. And I hope everyone else does too:

“Antibiotic resistance is rising for many different pathogens that are threats to health. If we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”

If that statement doesn’t cause you to stop, shudder, and seriously think about the consequences of having no effective antibiotics, it may be time to revisit a post from last year on this blog dealing with that very topic.  Go on and have a looksie, and we’ll continue right back here when you’re ready. Seriously–getcha some background before we continue.

Welcome back! Next, let’s look at the important role pharmaceutical companies play in producing antibiotics.

The Pharmaceutical Companies

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune earlier this year, the number of new systemic antibiotics approved by the US Food and Drug Administration dropped from 16 between 1983 and 1987 to just two in the past five years.

Pharmaceutical companies are, well, companies. They exist to make money. Obviously, the medicine created from these companies help millions of people around the world, myself included. It would seem that now is the perfect time for more and more pharmaceutical companies to invest in the research and development of new antibiotics. But this is not the case.

In the world of pharmaceuticals, antibiotics do not bring in as much revenue as almost all of the other drugs produced. Therefore, there’s not that much of a financial incentive for these companies to produce the antibiotics. Most people also don’t realize the enormous amount of money and time that go into the researching and testing of new drugs. It’s a very strict and rigorous process that takes years. And right now, the incentive for most companies is just not there.

What Happens Now?

My intent is not to make pharmaceutical companies out to be the “bad guys”. I know many people have opinions about “Big Pharma”, but that’s not the focus of this post. But in our society of the free market and capitalism, the fact that money is a big motivator should not be a surprise to anyone.

I also don’t want to give the impression that there are no pharmaceutical companies in existence today who are not researching, or at least allocating time and money, to producing new antibiotics. GlaxoSmithKline was recently given about $200 million from the US to develop new drugs. Some other companies are following suit, but it is not enough to stave off the looming public health crisis that some, including Dr. Frieden, can see coming.

Wake Up!

zzzzzz……zzzzsdsfhoi…wha?? Oh hi! I guess I must have dozed off for a few seconds. Wait, I’ve been sleeping since March?

Yes, blog, you’ve been asleep for a while. We’re going through some changes here at the Orders of Magnitude household. You may be a seeing a little less of Patricia Waldron, whose journalistic abilities will be taking her to the redwoods and beaches of Santa Cruz, CA. I’ll be in OKC for the time being, but now that things have settled down a bit, we’ll be able to get back into a regular blogging schedule. What have we missed? Probably not a lot, right?

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured Saturn’s rings and Earth in the same frame.

Aw, man!

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano escaped what could have been a deadly disaster on July 16, 2013 when his spacesuit began leaking water. He described not being able to breathe and barely made it back into the ISS.

Holy water balls!

An August 5th story in The Telegraph says that having an orgasm instead of doing a crossword puzzle is better for your brain. What if you’re doing a crossword AND having sex? I guess that would make the sex not as good…anyway, I think we all know what we need to do here.

Never fear! Just because we haven’t been posting doesn’t mean we haven’t been paying attention to all the awesome science.  Stay tuned, Magnituders. We’re just getting started.