Throwback Thursday: That’s Not How Science Works: Vaccination Edition –

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


 

Childhood vaccinations have been preventing disease and saving lives of children for over a century. Yet only in recent decades has vaccination become a question, a choice, rather than a must. The root of the vaccine debate lies in the question of personal freedom versus the effect on those around us of not vaccinating. Parents should have to vaccinate their children, because the benefits of doing so far outweigh any potential risks. Many of these perceived risks are fictional, so the fear they cause is unfounded.

Orange-County, California has one of the highest personal exemptions rates in the country, at nearly 9% of kids being unvaccinated. This county has also had the most deaths from the measles outbreak that originated in Disneyland. “Rhett Krawitt is in remission…vulnerable to infection and unable to be vaccinated, turning him into an unwitting symbol of the need for herd immunity” (Schulten, New York Times). Rhett is just one example. Herd immunity is if 95% of a population is vaccinated or otherwise immune. The remaining 5%, those with immune disorders or other conditions making them unable to be vaccinated, will be protected because the disease will not be able to develop. When immunization rates drop too low, diseases can sneak in and cause an epidemic like the one seen with the measles. One reason people don’t vaccinate is because they think the disease is nearly eradicated already and there is no need; however, that only stands true when we vaccinate.

One of the greatest misconceptions about vaccines that lead to personal exemptions is the false notion that “vaccines cause autism”. To be clear, they don’t. The rumor that they do was based upon falsified research that has since been retracted and disproven. The side effects of vaccines are almost always mild, ranging from a fever to a rash, only in rare cases. Only the DTaP vaccine has a more common, severe side effect. One in a million cases can suffer paralysis or brain damage (CDC website). Even so, the risk you run in not getting the vaccine, which is to protect infants from whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus, is far worse than these rare risks.

Many people choose not to vaccinate because it is their “personal freedom” or because they “don’t want to overburden their child’s immune system”; however, people should have to vaccinate their children because the risks posed to both individuals and society by not doing so far outweighs the rare case of adverse effects from vaccination. As Dr. Snyder said to the Boston Globe “It’s a common theme that we see parents questioning scientific facts in the same way they would debate a political topic.” We shouldn’t let them.

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Throwback Thursday: Karyotype Letter – 2014

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.

For this particular assignment, we drew chromosomes from a hat to write about the disorder a trisomy of that chromosome would cause.

I originally drew 21 but everyone else reveled, saying it was unfair since I wouldn’t have to research it (my sister has Down’s Syndrome – also known as trisomy 21) so I traded with my best friend for trisomy 15. All the science here is as accurate as a 14 year old could get.


 

Dear Soon-to-be Parents,

I have finished reviewing your child’s karyotype, and I regret to inform you that I found a genetic abnormality.  As you know all human beings have 46 chromosomes. In your son’s case he has 47 chromosomes, an extra chromosome, the 15th to be precise. This is also called trisomy 15. This additional chromosome can cause one of two genetic syndromes.  Trisomy 15 can cause either Prader-Willi’s syndrome (PWS) or Angelman’s Syndrome (AS). PWS occurs when the extra chromosome comes from the mother. AS occurs when the extra chromosome comes from the father. Unfortunately a karyotype does not tell us where the extra chromosome came from and thus I cannot tell you which disorder your son will be born with. Both syndromes also result in miscarriages, but at this stage in pregnancy that is highly unlikely.  As you are entering the third trimester, an abortion is also not a viable option so I would like to take this opportunity to provide some education and prognosis so you can help your son grow and develop to the best of his potential.

Some common symptoms to both disorders are: delayed growth and development, mental retardation, hypotonia (weak muscle tone), and characteristic facial features. The severance of these symptoms varies from child to child.. Chromosome 15 codes genetic information used largely by the brain, specifically in muscle movements, as well as, eye and skin color. The maternal chromosome is usually the most active, thus, with Angelman’s syndrome, the extra paternal chromosome manifests in certain symptoms. Angelman’s causes developmental delays, especially physically. Fine motor skills are underdeveloped and they have short attention spans. Those with Angelman’s frequently exhibit hypopigmentation, which causes their skin, eyes, and hair to be significantly lighter than the parents’.  Children with Angelman’s generally have poor verbal skills, though their non-verbal communication is generally better than their peers. They are described as “excessively happy and always smiling”. Children with Angelman’s can live independent, happy lives with the proper assistance and care. They live well into adulthood and can have children of their own, though it is hereditary.

As for Prader-Willi’s syndrome, an extra maternal copy is activated. Common symptoms include: extreme, insatiable appetite (polyphagia), delayed to no pubescent growth (hypogonadism), extremely weak muscles, and hormone imbalances. People with this condition typically find it hard to reproduce. They have distinct facial characteristics, including: thin upper lips, almond shaped eyes, lighter skin, and a downturned mouth. Joints are usually loosely extended and sex organs are slow in development. As with Angelman’s, children with Prader-Willi’s have trouble learning and speaking. Due to their insatiable hunger, they are prone to huger pains, and obesity. This can cause severe sleeping and behavioral problems. Nearly all with Prader-Willi’s live well into adulthood, but many rely on drug therapy to suppress the worst of the symptoms. Both disorders are linked to having a lower than average intelligence.

You may be wondering how this could have happened to your son, wondering how he ended up with three chromosome 15s instead of two. You may want to blame each other. Well don’t. It is just as likely to come from the father than the mother, and vise-versa. It isn’t either of your faults; it is a result of non-disjunction. Non-disjunction is, to put it simply, when in meiosis, the chromosomes that should separate, don’t. Usually, replicated chromosomes split, so each haploid cell/gamete has one copy. Non-disjunction can occur equally in males and females. When non-disjunction occurs, both copies of a chromosome enter one cell, and none enter the other. If this occurs in Meiosis I, then there is a 50% chance of a monosomy (having one copy of a chromosome) and 50% chance of a trisomy (having 3 copies, which is what happened to your son). If non-disjunction happens in meiosis II, then there is a 50% chance of a “normal” baby, 25% chance of monosomy, and 25% chance of trisomy. It is not your fault, and you are not the only parents to go through this, your son is not the only one with this disorder (which ever it may be). About 1 in 1000 pregnancies have chromosomal disorders. And while there isn’t a cure, there are ways to help your son.

Treatments for both Angelman’s and Prader-Willi’s are similar. One noticeable difference is that children with Prader-Willi’s require more hormone and drug treatments. Hormone treatments are used to help the child develop normally, and to trigger puberty if it does not occur naturally. Drug treatments are also used to treat the hunger pains. Many children follow special diets that are “low in calories but high in proteins, fiber, and various essential nutrients” so that they do not become obese. Other treatments for Prader-Willi’s are the same as those for Angelman’s; they focus mainly on making the symptoms caused by the disease manageable.

Early Intervention is the key to minimizing the effects and increasing your son’s chances of success.  Early Intervention programs provide children a mix of speech, occupational, and physical therapies, among other things. This starts in infancy and can help a child with these disorders to develop skills similar to their “normal” peers. This therapies can help a child with a developmental disability reach milestones sooner than they would on their own. Children who go through early intervention are more capable and show less extreme symptoms than those that don’t. Children with chromosomal disorders often require more specialized learning environments than public school can offer, there are special schools these children can attend to aid their education. Here in south Florida, schools such as “The Learning Experience” are specifically for taking care of those children with special needs. And while these schools can be expensive, scholarships and other programs are available such as the McKay Voucher here in Florida. Feel free to contact me, or any of my co-workers for additional information. And remember, your son is special. He’s going to need a little extra help, but he’ll love you the same as any other baby.

Best Wishes,
Dr. Samantha B. (Last name redacted)

 

Throwback Thursday: Vicaria Blanca – 2013

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


 

Ever been in history class and found it weird that people didn’t have medicine all those years ago, and died from common diseases? You’d think that they form of medicine didn’t work, but actually, some of those methods are still used today, and some people think they work better the usual run of the mill medicine we all use! The elder I interviewed for this project on the use of plants, as medicine was my grandfather, Jose Rios. He was born and raised in Cuba, where he met my grandmother and had his three children, my uncle, my mother, and aunt. They moved to Miami, Florida when he was forty years old in 1980, and has been here ever since. He speaks primarily Spanish and can understand English, though when he speaks it, it’s heavily accented and usually has butchered grammar. He is now 72, and he cares for my younger sister and me after school everyday.

When I interviewed him, he told me he uses Vicaria Blanca (White Vicaria) to treat pink eye, and other problems. He’s been using it since he was a child, when his grandmother used it on him and taught him how to use it. He told me that to use it, you boil the flower bowling in water, into a type of tea looking liquid, greenish-yellow in color. You then use it as eye drops or wet a napkin with it and hold it on the eye. He’s been using it for over 50 years and says it’s worked for him every time. He says he prefers to use this then over the counter eye drops because it has the natural vitamins and has less chemicals, which makes it good to use on small children and adults.

Based on the research done by the University of Florida Herbarium, Vicaria Blanca is useful for treating eye infections. Based on a study in 1995, the drops made from boiling the flower in water does help your vision. And according to Wikipedia, Vicaria Blanca, a type of Madagascar Periwinkle commonly found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat many things, including: diabetes, malaria, Hodgkin’s disease, and well as some extracted substances used to treat leukemia. On the other side however, if ingested orally, it can be fatal and if not, it causes hallucinations. So, if used on children, it should under supervision.

What I’ve learned from this, is that plants can be used as medicine just as they did thousands of years ago, and that, though I hadn’t known it, my grandfather has been using it on me since I was an infant. It seems odd that people would still use these things, but they do, I’ve also learned that they still use poisonous plants…at least people don’t poison themselves anymore!

Throwback Thursday: Research – BioTech Product

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


 

Ibuprofen is an over the counter medication, in the category of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) used to treat pain, cramps, fever, and to reduce inflammation. It usually comes in the form of a pill, but does come in liquid form, usually for children. It was developed as a safer alternative to aspirin (though its use has been linked to increased chances of liver and heart diseases). It is manufactured by various companies, under brand names such as “Advil”, “Nurofen”, and “Moltrin”. Some specific companies include: Bayer Healthcare, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer Inc.

Ibuprofen is a synthesized compound. The process begins with a compound called “2-methylpropylbenzene” and through a six step process of adding and removing various molecules (a process which has since been reduced in what is called “green” synthesis), you end up with Ibuprofen. The original method was called the “Boot Process” after the company with the original patent, but now the “Hoechst Process” is used (this would be that new “green synthesis”). With the Hoechst process, the original
2-methylpropylbenzene is still used, then a H2 catalyst is added and then a CO catalyst is added. Through this, the proper molecules are added and removed to form Ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen was first developed and patented by the Boot Pure Drug Company in the UK. The research team was led by Stewart Adams. Ibuprofen became available as an over the counter medication in America in 1974 when the American Upjohn Company was given permission to market it as Motrin. Later, the Boots Company also sold it in America under the name Rufen.

Netgalley Review: Superman Science

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*I received an e-arc of this book from Netgalley, in exchange for my honest review*

Original Release Date:

March 1st 2017

Date I Read The Book:

December 2016

My Star Rating:

3.5 stars

Official Summary:

Superman is the World’s Greatest Hero! With super-strength, lightning speed, laser vision, and the ability to fly, he keeps Earth safe. But what is the science behind strength, speed, sight, and flight? And does anything or anyone in our world have similar abilities to Superman? Superman Science explores how real-life science and engineering relates to the Man of Steel’s famous powers and the real-world connections may surprise you.”

My Review: 

This book was cute. Mainly, it goes about explaining Superman’s powers in the real world context. He flies so this is a simplified version of how planes work. He’s strong here’s world records of strength. Most connections are basic lessons of physical science, historical feats, and connections to different animals.

The layout and organization is really well done. It did feel overly dumbed down in places, but that may just be my AP brain. This is meant for younger children after all. Though, in a lot of places, it felt only tangentially connected to Superman. Superman was the jumping of point to learn the science, but he wants the main focus it felt.

I think the reason I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I could have is I forgot it was targeted for much younger children, and so the fact that everything was so simplified and truncated made me feel patronized.

I think, if your 10-14, maybe a little younger or older depending on reading level/sciences you’ve taken, you’ll like this. Especially if you like Superman or you like learning. But if your the kind if person who takes AP sciences courses, you won’t get much out it.