Friday, March 27, 2009

The Death Penalty and the company we keep.

There was an interesting little article in Wednesday's New York Times by Mark McDonald and Michael Wines that reported on Amnesty International's recent annual report on the death penalty for 2008. Now I know this is an emotional subject for many people and that opinions are strongly divided as to the necessity of this practice as a deterrent to the proliferation of violent crime, but sometimes if we step back and see who were are lying in concert with we might be surprised.

I found it telling who the leading practitioners of the death penalty were in order of their body count. At the top of the list was China with its 1.718 reported kills (this number is believed to be suspect since everything in China is done with a veil of secrecy). The runner-up was that "axis of evil' member nation Iran, certainly a bastion of intellectual thought and free of expression. Here the Iranians racked up 346 kills! Not to be outdone, our friends in the more progressive and cosmopolitan sheikdom of Saudi Arabia, were ranked third with 102 kills. Then guess who was next on this ignominious list? You got it friends, we were. The United States, a beacon for free thinking,humanitarianism and an advocate against human rights abuse in other nations had a total of 37 executions! According to the Death Penalty Information Center the state with the most executions last year was Texas with 18! Those progressive folks in Pakistan, where woman are still buried alive for not following the marital wishes of their families, actually killed one less person than we did last year.

I recognize that our prisons are overflowing and that the cost for maintaining a life sentence far exceeds the cost of a lethal injection or the kilowatts used in an electrocution, but really is the price of our humanity so easily bought?

If the old adage "You are judged by the company you keep." applies here we had better look at ourselves and our practices more closely. Thankfully the number of 37 executions this year is the lowest since 1994, so we are making progress, but we need to catch up to the majority of civilized society and eliminate this dated and unseemly practice.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

MRSA : When will we Learn?

Recently I have had the unfortunate luck to have experienced a rather nasty infection on my leg. Mysteriously a small pimple-like eruption on my lower leg appeared and thinking it was a just an ingrown hair or some such thing I tried to pop the little sucker with little effect. I made sure to use alcohol to rub the area after the crude procedure. Shortly thereafter, the site of the offense became rather unsightly, bright red, warm to the touch and started to grow alarmingly in diameter. Despite my care to wash it carefully and treat it with Neosporin-my household remedy for anything topical-it was refusing to get better and growing by leaps and bounds. Not being one to deny myself medical attention when needed, I went to my Doctor who looked it over and concluded that I had somehow contracted an infection, probably from my trying to lance it. He carefully swabbed a sample of whatever discharge he could get for a culture from the now open wound and prescribed a topical ointment and an oral antibiotic, Biaxin, that is apparently the first line of defense in normal infections of this type.

After religiously following the instructions the wound was not responding and getting uglier and larger by the day. Not wanting to act prematurely, for fear of being consider in a state of hypochondria, I watched and waited until I had a coincidental visit to another Doctor that I had planned for an totally unrelated matter. When I showed the condition of my wound to the other Dr. he was alarmed enough to insist that I contact my primary physician again and have it rechecked.
When I called my internist he suggested that he would prefer for me to go right to the emergency room at my local hospital. Needless to say I was starting to get alarmed. When I arrived at the hospital I was admitted and the wound inspected and cleaned. They checked with my physician, to see if he had received any results from the first culture, but the results were as yet unavailable. After a consultation by the admitting doctor with the Center for Disease Controls, they determined that they should give me a powerful antibiotic, Vacomycin, intravenously in case what I had contracted was MRSA (pronounced MERSA an acronym for methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus.). This was the first I had heard of this virulent, antibiotic-resistant strain of the common Staph family of infections that has seemingly crept into our society in a stealth-like fashion and is amazingly responsible for the deaths of over 18,000 Americans annually, surpassing deaths by AIDS!

In my particular case, thankfully the results of the culture revealed no MRSA. Instead I was afflicted with a more commonly found Staff infection that proved to be of the type typically found on our skins everyday and usually not inclined to become problematic as mine did. Nonetheless it took two other visits to the emergency room-one to drain the wound and the other to remove the packing- along with an extended dose of double strength Biaxin before I was deemed clear of this episode.

Unfortunately, shorty thereafter, the same thing recurred on the same leg! After two precautionary visits to both a dermatologist and an infectious disease specialist and numerous cultures later I was given a third antibiotic, this time
Levaquin, for a longer period (fourteen days)to rid my body of any traces of this nasty sucker. Now lets make sure we understand I am scrupulously clean, almost to the point of obsession and shower at least two times daily. I do frequent a high-end fitness center several times a week, I suppose this could be a source, although it appears to be clean, well maintained and I generously use cleaning solution provided before and after each use of any equipment.

Perhaps I will never know how I contracted this particularly tough strain. Mysteriously, upon further investigation, I am told it has become more and more common for people to be inhabited by this or some other staph germ. Perhaps our overuse of antibacterial soaps are helping to create stronger strains? Incidents like mine are becoming alarmingly more regular. Hospitals are particularly vulnerable to these infections and are constantly on the defense against these new, more virulent super bugs. No one seems to know why this is suddenly becoming more common except there are signs we are doing this to ourselves. Doctors may be over prescribing antibiotics for routine matters, thus leaving ourselves open to acquiring some immunity to their effectiveness. But even those who recoil from the overuse of medicines on principal may be victim to another source of over exposure to antibiotics.This exposure is the result of the reckless routine use of therapeutic antibiotics in our food stocks.

Clearly, as my little personal experience has confirmed, this is becoming a problem of greater proportions than most people are aware of and should not be ignored. Interestingly enough Nicholas Kristof, of the NY Times, has recently been doing a series of articles on MRSA and how it is developing in areas of the country where pig farming is the prevalent.

It seems that when a recent test of random pork samples was taken from Washington, D.C. markets one out of 300 samples tested positive for MRSA. In Louisiana the same sampling uncovered five out of 90 positive results!While Kristof makes clear that there is no evidence of anyone getting sick from eating cooked pork -the cooking kills the bacteria-it is the handling of the meat that represents the real danger here.

The apparent reason for this development, according to the peer-reviewed Medical Clinics of North America report is that permitting the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock feed was a "major component" in the rise in antibiotic resistance in the general human population. Using therapeutic antibiotics on all types of livestock regularly by agri-business concerns allows them to keep animals in inhumane and blighted, unsanitary conditions that become incubators for infections. In a convoluted circle of lunacy agri-business's obvious solution, to the problems that arise from their mass marshaling of animals for slaughter and the creation of these germ breeding grounds for super bugs, is to therapeutically treat the livestock massive amounts with antibiotics. So much so that more antibiotics are fed to livestock in North America than to the entire human population!

The solution is legislation banning the reckless use of these antibiotics in animal livestock. The solution is more sanitary and humane treatment of animals that are to be processed for human consumption. We must follow the trend to a more sustainable, more organic way to raise and slaughter our livestock. We must allow the normal growth period for these animals to occur without accelerating it unnaturally by the use of growth hormones, antibiotics and feed stocks that artificially produce a greater yield at the expense of a more satisfying and healthful product. Perhaps this will raise the cost of our meat and poultry but why are willing to eat ourselves into an epidemic? We must encourage our legislators to act! We must actively petition against special interests in the agri-business sector that see profit as their only mandate. We must protect ourselves against infection over economic considerations championed at the expense of the health of the nation.
We must support those conscientious growers and raisers that employ methods that eschew the use or growth hormones, antibiotics and inhumane force feeding of animal
at the expense of a healthful product. Only a rejection of these agri-business products through our purchase choices can send a clear and defining message that we are not willing to accept this anymore.

A note encouraging legislation prohibiting the use of therapeutic antibiotics in our livestock to Mr. Obama and to his newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Mr. Vilsack as well as your state representatives is clearly worth the effort.

PS: Vilsack's email at Agriculture is:

Mr,. Obama's e mail :