Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How do doctors weigh the risks and benefits of diagnostic tests? Sometimes it's harder than you might think. 

Take CT scans, which deliver known doses of radiation to patients. Add kids, for whom radiation risks are higher -- in part because of their smaller developing bodies and because there's more time ahead to see effects of radiation. Now consider a CT scan for a child with severe and chronic sinusitis. A kid who has come to a specialist after having tried other diagnostics and treatments for their condition. A CT scan has the potential to reveal definitively -- more than any other test -- what's going on. 

I wrote about the risk data and the benefits in practice of using CT scans in kids for ENT Today.

The doses are small, but they do add up. As one ENT doctor told me: “I don’t think much about one CT scan. But I do think about two CT scans.”

Photo credit: thesmokingsection on Flickr

Thursday, January 31, 2013

River dams: good for generating electricity but bad for fish. In the Northeast US, many ocean fish species swim into rivers and upstream into small tributaries to spawn -- and complete their life cycle. Dams are a major barrier to these migratory fish and so people have come up with a variety of ways to help get fish around the dams -- from trapping and trucking to structures called fish ladders and elevators. 

For ScienceNOW, I wrote about a new report that looked at the numbers of fish using fish passages on three major river systems: the Merrimack, the Connecticut, and the Susquehanna.  Although stated targets at these dams call for hundreds of thousands of fish to pass through, the actual numbers were in the hundreds, the tens, and in the case of river herring on the Susquehanna, single digits. 

The report's authors make their case for dam removal, saying that other dams -- farther upstream or on less ecologically important waterways -- could make up the power loss. Further they point to Maine, where such radical action has been taken on the Penobscot River. 
photo credit: Wildcat Dunny on flickr

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Household mold is certainly an unsightly nuisance, but how bad is it for your health? I looked into the question for the Washington Post. Experts say allergic responses are most common. Toxic mold, on the other hand, is more myth than truth -- at least in terms of inhaling invisible spores and becoming severely ill.

The issue is relevant to those states that suffered Superstorm Sandy's exceptional storm surge, which resulted in many flooded homes. I share some revealing reports from the CDC after Hurricane Katrina and from the Institute of Medicine about the health effects of damp places.