Thursday, October 23, 2014

Toxoplasmosis and Schizophrenia

Cats drawn by Louis Wain during his institutionalization at Bethlem Royal Hospital

Following is an interesting article on the association between toxoplasmosis infection and schizophrenia/suicide. Read carefully, though. No one is saying that the parasite causes schizophrenia. The cat feces findings are consistent with the dominant diathesis-stress model: you inherit or are born with a certain vulnerability to mental illness and that vulnerability interacts with environmental factors (e.g., child abuse, parasitic infections, etc.) to affect the probability of a mental disorder emerging.

What would be compelling is a study of "high risk" pre-psychotic patients, e.g., the adolescent, non-schizophrenic offspring of schizophrenic parents. Test them for the T. gondii infection and treat them for it if they have it. Wait a decade or so and see if the "conversion rate" (i.e., percentage of genetically at-risk adolescents who go on to develop schizophrenia) is any different from other groups of genetically at-risk adolescents (i.e., less than 12-15%).

The Atlantic
"“Textbooks today still make silly statements that schizophrenia has always been around, it’s about the same incidence all over the world, and it’s existed since time immemorial,” [psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey] says. “The epidemiology literature contradicts that completely.” In fact, he says, schizophrenia did not rise in prevalence until the latter half of the 18th century, when for the first time people in Paris and London started keeping cats as pets. The so-called cat craze began among “poets and left-wing avant-garde Greenwich Village types,” says Torrey, but the trend spread rapidly—and coinciding with that development, the incidence of schizophrenia soared.
Since the 1950s, he notes, about 70 epidemiology studies have explored a link between schizophrenia and T. gondii. When he and his colleague Robert Yolken, a neurovirologist at Johns Hopkins University, surveyed a subset of these papers that met rigorous scientific standards, their conclusion complemented the Prague group’s discovery that schizophrenic patients with Toxo are missing gray matter in their brains. Torrey and Yolken found that the mental illness is two to three times as common in people who have the parasite as in controls from the same region.
Human-genome studies, both scientists believe, are also in keeping with that finding—and might explain why schizophrenia runs in families. The most replicated result from that line of investigation, they say, suggests that the genes most commonly associated with schizophrenia relate to the immune system and how it reacts to infectious agents. So in many cases where the disease appears to be hereditary, they theorize, what may in fact be passed down is an aberrant or deficient immune response to invaders like T. gondii.
Epstein-Barr virus, mumps, rubella, and other infectious agents, they point out, have also been linked to schizophrenia—and there are probably more as yet unidentified triggers, including many that have nothing to do with pathogens. But for now, they say, Toxo remains the strongest environmental factor implicated in the disorder. “If I had to guess,” says Torrey, “I’d say 75 percent of cases of schizophrenia are associated with infectious agents, and Toxo would be involved in a significant subset of those.”
Just as worrisome, says Torrey, the parasite may also increase the risk of suicide. In a 2011 study of 20 European countries, the national suicide rate among women increased in direct proportion to the prevalence of the latent Toxo infection in each nation’s female population. According to Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist and the director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a flurry of other studies, several conducted by his own team, offers further support of T. gondii’s link to higher rates of suicidal behavior. These include investigations of general populations as well as groups made up of patients with bipolar disorder, severe depression, and schizophrenia, and in places as diverse as Turkey, Germany, and the Baltimore/Washington area. Exactly how the parasite may push vulnerable people over the edge is yet to be determined. Postolache theorizes that what disrupts mood and the ability to control violent impulses may not be the organism per se, but rather neurochemical changes associated with the body’s immune response to it. “As far-fetched as these ideas may sound,” says Postolache, “the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was willing to put money behind this research.”"

Just to be clear, this is not cat schizophrenia, nor is it Cat Scratch Fever.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Angel of Death Nurse in Italy suspected of killing 38 patients

Kathy Bates in Misery.

NY Post
"Cops arrested a nurse in northeast Italy in connection to the deaths of as many as 38 patients, who she might have killed because she found them — or their relatives — annoying, officials said.
Police have the cell phone of Daniela Poggiali, 42, which included a photo she snapped a few months ago of her giving a thumbs up next to a patient who had died moments earlier, according to the Corriere di Bologna newspaper.
“I can assure you in that all my professional years of seeing shocking photos, there were few such as these,” prosecutor Alessandro Mancini said.
Poggiali, who lives in the town of Lugo, was taken into custody over the weekend and booked for the alleged slaying of 78-year-old patient Rosa Calderoni who died from an injection of potassium.
Calderoni had been admitted to the hospital with a routine illness before she died unexpectedly. Tests showed she died with a high amount of potassium, which can provoke cardiac arrest, in his bloodstream, according to the Central European News.
Her death triggered an investigation and found that 38 others had died mysteriously while Poggiali was on duty, the news agency reported.
One of Poggiali’s fellow nurses described her as a “cold person but always eager to work,” according to CEN.
Another one of Poggiali’s colleagues said the accused nurse was once reported for giving powerful laxatives to patients at the end of her shift to make work tougher for nurses working after her."

This sort of thing happens more frequently than you would hope. There is something broken about us.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jacques Barzun: STEM training is not the same as a college education

"If they leave college thinking, as they usually do, that science offers a full, accurate, and literal description of man and Nature; if they think scientific research by itself yields final answers to social problems; if they think scientists are the only honest, patient, and careful workers in the world; if they think that Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Lavoisier, and Faraday were unimaginative plodders like their own instructors; if they think theories spring from facts and that scientific authority at any time is infallible; if they think that the ability to write down symbols and read manometers is fair grounds for superiority and pride, and if they think that science steadily and automatically makes for a better world — then they have wasted their time in the science lecture room; they live in an Ivory Laboratory more isolated than the poet's tower, and they are a plain menace to the society they belong to. They are a menace whether they believe all this by virtue of being engaged in scientific work themselves or of being disqualified from it by felt or fancied incapacity."
  • Teacher in America (1945)

Monday, October 20, 2014

After Ferguson: Police Officers Shot or Killed in the Line of Duty

This store surveillance camera captured the strong-arm robbery allegedly committed by Mike Brown; ten minutes later, he was shot and killed by a police officer responding to the robbery.

The following opinion piece, written by a police officer, is getting a lot of attention. I added some links to the referenced incidents, to provide some context.

NY Post
"Since the shooting of Mike Brown, and the month-plus-long circus that followed, the number of law enforcement officers being shot in the line of duty has skyrocketed, but the average citizen has no idea this is happening.
The national media jumps all over a story where an 18-year-old criminal punk, who shot at a cop, is shot and killed. That criminal is made out to be some sort of victim by many outlets. That story is front-page news all over the country.
Did you know that in just three days last week, six cops were shot in the line of duty, one of whom was killed?
Oct. 7, Chicago: One officer, a captain, is shot in the face and chest. Other officers at the scene take fire and are pinned down by the suspect. [The suspect, wanted in 3 other shootings, was arrested. Another man, who happened to be with the suspect at the time the warrant was served, was killed by police at the scene. It is unclear whether or not he shot at the police. Witnesses say that he didn't. The wounded officer did not require surgery for his injuries.]
Oct. 8, North Las Vegas: An officer is shot during a gunfight with a suspect. [The suspect was shot and killed at the scene.]
Oct. 8, Phoenix: An officer on a traffic stop is shot in the face. The suspects flee; the officer calls for help. Two other officers arrive and start rendering aid, only to come under fire from the suspects who circled back and attacked the responding officers. [A week later, the bad guys have been identified but are still on the loose. UPDATE: They caught them.]
Oct. 8, Oklahoma City: Two officers are shot by a suspect during the same event. [The officers were responding to a reported hostage situation; the woman who was apparently the hostage was shot to death by a suspect who was then shot, but not killed, by an officer.]
Oct. 9, Midland County, Texas: Sgt. Mike Naylor is shot and killed while responding to a report of a sexual assault. [The officer was trying to talk a suspect, wanted for aggravated sexual assault on a child, out of a barricade situation. The suspect, after killing the officer, eventually surrendered. He was unharmed by the arresting officers and has been charged with capital murder.]
Where are those stories in the national news?
What does it say about the media who make a victim out of a criminal, and ignore the good guys being injured and killed trying to keep society safe?"

Here's a link to the great Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks police officer fatalities. I used data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund to create this chart:

Well, for one thing, it used to be a whole lot more dangerous to be a cop in the U.S. -- especially when you consider that these are raw totals, not rates -- so the number of killed officers has been decreasing even as the number of police has been increasing.

That was quite a bloodbath during Prohibition and the Depression. And it seems like there was some "rally round the flag" effect during WWII -- or did we just conscript a lot of potential cop killers and turn 'em loose against the Nazis? There was a postwar uptick, but it wasn't until the 1970s (think Taxi Driver and The French Connection and Serpico) that all hell broke loose.

Since then, there seems to have been a steady decline in officer deaths in the line of duty. I'm sure that body armor and airbags have had something to do with it. The proliferation of SWAT teams may also have helped. Emergency medical services and Life Flight helicopters must also be playing a role. There may be more cops being shot but surviving wounds that would have been fatal in the 1970s. Lessons learned on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan could be saving lives in the U.S.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Last Buccaneer -- Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)

OH, England is a pleasant place for them that’s rich and high;
But England is a cruel place for such poor folks as I;
And such a port for mariners I ne’er shall see again,
As the pleasant Isle of Avès, beside the Spanish main.
There were forty craft in Avès that were both swift and stout,        5
All furnish’d well with small arms and cannons round about;
And a thousand men in Avès made laws so fair and free
To choose their valiant captains and obey them loyally.
Thence we sail’d against the Spaniard with his hoards of plate and gold,
Which he wrung by cruel tortures from the Indian folk of old;        10
Likewise the merchant captains, with hearts as hard as stone,
Which flog men and keelhaul them and starve them to the bone.
Oh, the palms grew high in Avès and fruits that shone like gold,
And the colibris and parrots they were gorgeous to behold;
And the negro maids to Avès from bondage fast did flee,        15
To welcome gallant sailors a sweeping in from sea.
Oh, sweet it was in Avès to hear the landward breeze
A-swing with good tobacco in a net between the trees,
With a negro lass to fan you while you listen’d to the roar
Of the breakers on the reef outside that never touched the shore.        20
But Scripture saith, an ending to all fine things must be,
So the King’s ships sail’d on Avès and quite put down were we.
All day we fought like bulldogs, but they burst the booms at night;
And I fled in a piragua sore wounded from the fight.
Nine days I floated starving, and a negro lass beside,        25
Till for all I tried to cheer her, the poor young thing she died;
But as I lay a gasping a Bristol sail came by,
And brought me home to England here to beg until I die.
And now I ’m old and going I ’m sure I can’t tell where;
One comfort is, this world’s so hard I can’t be worse off there:        30
If I might but be a sea-dove I ’d fly across the main,
To the pleasant Isle of Avès, to look at it once again.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Taxman -- Junior Parker (1971)


Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you and nineteen for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yes, I'm the taxman

(That man is rough; now dig this)
Should five per cent appear too small
Just be thankful I don't take it all
(Taxman is something else, isn't he?)
'Cause I'm the taxman, yes, I'm the taxman

(Now dig this)
If you drive a truck, I'll tax the street
If you try to fix it, I'll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat
If you take a walk (now this is awful). I'll tax your feet

'Cause I'm the taxman
This is awful

Now don't ask me what it's for
If you don't wanna pay, pay some more
'Cause I'm the taxman, yes, I'm the taxman

(Now dig this)
Now my advice for those who die
(This is awful)
Beware of the pennies on your eyes
'Cause I'm the taxman, yes, I'm the taxman
And you're working for me and no one but me

The taxman is rough
He come and get you any time he wanna
Do you believe he come and get your old lady?
That taxman is a blip

Friday, October 17, 2014

Virtual Reality Therapy for PTSD

VR Therapy for PTSD looks like something that the Space Marines in Aliens would use. It's not what it seems, though, like EMDR. It might work, but not for any high-tech reason. It's just Prolonged Exposure therapy (PE) in disguise. They suit the patient up, program the computer, and have him talk about the worst day of his life, over, and over, and over again. Just like the protocol for PE. But traditional psychotherapy doesn't require computer nerds or nearly as much electricity.