Category Archives: Uncategorized

Zika, microcephaly link called “surprising”

In this transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus, the arrow indicates a single virus particle. Courtesy: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In this transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus, the arrow indicates a single virus particle. Courtesy: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zika virus is a flavivirus, as are yellow fever, dengue and West Nile viruses. But none of those other viruses are known to cause microcephaly, which makes the Zika-microcephaly link “surprising,” according to Dr. Hugh Pennington.

Dr. Pennington, an emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, made that observation in a recent London Review of Books blog post.

“Diseases caused by the other flaviviruses have been intensively studied for many years without microcephaly turning up as a complication,” he wrote. “It hasn’t been clearly evident in Zika virus outbreaks elsewhere in the world. But flaviviruses mutate in real time. The classic example is West Nile virus. Isolated at the Rockefeller Yellow Fever labs in Uganda in 1937, like Zika it remained quiet for years. Then in the mid-1990s it got nastier, causing severe brain disease with epidemics in North Africa and Southern Europe. It took off in New York in 1999, and spread rapidly across the continent.” Continue reading →

One at a time?

it-s-time-to-end-poverty-374fac74a0_640x360This isn’t a specifically medical usage problem, but it appears in medical writing as well. Use of the  phrase “one <fill in relevant item/person> at a time” is rampant. I have never understood it. Sometimes it’s the only way a given activity or objective could be accomplished but in other cases, it’s absurd. Notably, in this advertising campaign by the Canadian division of the Salvation Army. Continue reading →

Toronto psychiatrist IDs new type of hoarding disorder

©Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

©Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

By now, the story of Vivian Maier has become well known: the Chicago-based nanny who compulsively took photographs — hundreds of thousands of photographs — but either rarely printed the negatives or never had the film processed at all.

Toronto psychiatrist Dr. Katalin Margittai watched the documentary of John Maloof’s extraordinary efforts to find out who Vivian Maier was (the Academy Award-nominated “Finding Vivian Maier”), and made several diagnoses. She published them in an article in the February issue of the Chronicle of Neurology & Psychiatry (article not available online).

For those who have wondered why Maier took all those pictures but never developed the film, Dr. Margittai’s answer is that she suffered from a new type of hoarding: hoarding moments in time. Continue reading →

Happy 95th birthday to Joan Hollobon!

Courtesy Asia Wreczycka

Courtesy Asia Wreczycka

Joan Hollobon, once the doyenne of Canadian medical writers, celebrated her 95th birthday yesterday.

Joan was the Globe and Mail‘s medical reporter from the early 1960s until her retirement in 1985.  In a career that spanned the founding of Medicare to the early days of the AIDS pandemic, she was also a founder of the Canadian Science Writers Association, which awarded her its first lifetime achievement award in 2010.

A few of us had cake and heart-healthy red wine with her last evening. She was in great spirits and thoroughly enjoyed herself.~TM

Gilligan’s creator was a med school reject – due to quota on Jewish students

Before launching into 2015, we at Murray’s Review are reviewing our 2014 notebooks for stories we didn’t have time to cover this year.

Sherwood Schwartz receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 2008 ~ Credit: Nicolj

Sherwood Schwartz receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 2008 ~ Credit: Nicolj

We all (or those of us of a certain age) know the story of “Gilligan’s Island,” which ran on U.S. TV from 1964 to 1967.

A chartered boat tour in the Hawaiian islands, given by a blustery captain and his hapless first mate on the S. S. Minnow, ran into a typhoon and was shipwrecked on an uncharted island. The tour group consisted of a millionaire couple, a sexy female movie star, a farm girl and a science professor. The show followed their efforts to live on the island while trying to be rescued from it. Hilarity ensues.

But there was more to it than that, according to a new book on sitcoms. In Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community, Saul Austerlitz writes that Sherwood Schwartz, the show’s creator, wanted to find a scenario that would force disparate characters together and unable to leave. “All my shows, actually, are how do people learn to get along with each other?” he quotes Schwartz as saying.
Continue reading →

Word Watch: almost alcoholic

Credit: Ahileos

Credit: Ahileos

Tip o’ the hat once again to Paul McFedries, Canada’s Word Spy for noting the rise in the use of ‘almost alcoholic.’

He defines the term as “a person who exhibits some of the symptoms or behaviors associated with alcoholism, but who is not a full-blown alcoholic.”

He cites the earliest use in a New York Daily News story in which then-U.S. President George W. Bush was described by an adviser “a recovering alcoholic or almost-alcoholic,” which led him to “really [believe] in the power of faith to get you through times of trouble.” Continue reading →

Word Watch: mentor/mentee/manatee?

Manatee - a word that is uncomfortably similar to "mentee"  •  Credit: Nicolas Larento

Manatee – a word that is uncomfortably similar to “mentee” • Credit: Nicolas Larento

File under “too close for comfort.”

I have never liked the word “mentee” as the name of the recipient of another’s mentoring. Too close to “manatee.”

I was put in mind of it again when Dr. Lucy Ferriss (PhD), writing in Lingua Franca, a blog of  The Chronicle of Higher Education, opined recently about whether “mentor” is a noun or a verb. Continue reading →

Word Watch: expediate (aka ‘expedite’)

Credit: Poussin jean

Credit: Poussin jean

‘Expediate’ — which most of us know as ‘expedite’ — has been gaining legitimacy.

The American Heritage Dictionary online has a new entry for it, although it labels the word a “usage problem.”

“Some people use the verb expediate where expedite would properly be used, as in The government wants to expediate the processing of visa applications. The Usage Panel roundly rejects expediate. In our 2009 survey, 85 percent rejected the sentence quoted above.” Continue reading →

‘Bad Christmas music is like old-timey, traditional medicine’

Credit: Alex White

Credit: Alex White

From “Please Advise! This Christmas Music is Goddamn Awful,” in The Tyee (9 December 2014), by Steve Burgess:

Christmas is about tradition, which can be nice. But not always. Imagine if there was a brief period each year when medical science was all about tradition. March could be Leech Month. Sulphur and molasses would be prescribed for all manner of ailments, or better yet, mercury. That is essentially what happens to the flow of public music in December. Our auditory canals are treated with liberal doses of musical mercury. Combined with the sudden influx of egg nog and Turtles, it is a wonder anyone survives this happy time of year.

Once upon a time medical science seemed fairly random. People came up with remedies that seemed reasonable — lobotomies, say — and added them to the repertoire. That seems similar to the construction of the Christmas music canon. How is it that some holiday songs become perennials? The process seems random. How did ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ become standard? … With so many holiday recordings to choose from, why do we consistently choose ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’? Why does Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ persist? Why is there pain and death?

Steve Burgess is identified as “an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric.” Burgess won my everlasting admiration when he stated his fondness for the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s music for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and “that Guaraldi could do a variation on ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ that is not obnoxious is my idea of a Christmas miracle.” Amen.~TM

CDC calls 2014 an ‘unprecedented’ year

Credit: Gstudio Group

Credit: Gstudio Group

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has called 2014 an “unprecedented” year as the agency continues its response — “the largest global effort in the agency’s history” — to the Ebola epidemic.

However, in its year-end review, CDC noted nine other “mission critical” areas it addressed this year — most of which, not surprisingly, are important in Canada as well and will represent ongoing priorities. Continue reading →

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