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In the News: from Big Pharma - to Human Head Transplants

First Human Head Transplant?

Big Pharma takes tighter control of world's leading "independent" health websites

Many of the world's major medical websites are now owned directly - or indirectly - by the pharmaceutical industry, although this is hidden from consumers searching for independent health advice. WebMD, RxList, MedicineNet and Medscape are the latest to forge ever-closer ties to the pharmaceutical industry after they were purchased by private investment firm KKR (Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co).

The sites have always been heavily reliant on advertising income from drug companies - WebMD alone generates around $700m a year - and this has influenced editorial decisions. Medcsape has deleted all negative stories about vaccinations, for example. But now the pharmaceutical industry has a direct influence over the sites with KKR's $2.8bn purchase. KKR has in its investment portfolio GlaxoSmithKline's older drugs whose patents have expired, Bayer's diabetes equipment division, and 80% of Panasonic Health Care. Several of their directors and board members also have close ties to the drugs industry, including one executive who is also chairman of Merck.

WebMD's reach in the US is vast and is one of the country's most influential health websites. It's visited by around 75 million consumers and 650,000 doctors every month. KKR's Internet Brands division has day-to-day control of the recently-acquired sites. Its CEO, Bob Brisco, said: "WebMD and Medscape are the market leaders in online health with unparalleled reach to consumers and healthcare professionals" - and now they are even better positioned to recommend the pharmaceutical line.

Increase in Mumps Cases among the Vaccinated

There has been an increase in the number of mumps outbreaks among those vaccinated for mumps. More than 6,000 cases were reported in 2016 in the US - most of whom had been previously vaccinated - compared to the hundreds of cases being recorded just a few years ago. 2016 marked the second-highest annual case count of mumps in more than a quarter-century. All but 13 states reported mumps in 2017.

Scientists admit the mumps vaccine, one component of the MMR vaccine, does not offer full protection, and its effects wear off in time. This would explain why most of the outbreaks have been reported among teenagers and people in their 20’s, but does not account for the steep rise that has occurred in the last few years.

Currently there is only one mumps vaccine available in the US, which is manufactured by Merck and included in the combination live attenuated MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. (There is another vaccine that contains mumps, but it is not currently being distributed in the US.) The CDC recommends that children get two doses of MMR vaccine with the first dose given between ages 12-15 months, and the second dose given between ages 4-6 years.

One study of a mumps outbreak among 259 students at the University of Iowa discovered that 98% had received two doses of MMR when they were children. The researchers, from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, concluded that students who had been vaccinated more than 13 years ago were 9 times more likely to contract mumps; that the protective effects had diminished to such an extent that they were no better off than those who had never been vaccinated.

In 2006 and 2009, there were outbreaks of mumps in the US in vaccinated children. In 2012, new information questioning the efficacy of the mumps portion of the MMR vaccine emerged when two former Merck employees filed a lawsuit alleging the company altered testing results and studies to make the mumps vaccine in MMR appear to be more effective than it really is.

Mumps is a contagious viral infection and symptoms begin with a headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. A stiff neck just before, during or after mumps infection is a sign that aseptic meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain) may have developed, which is a rare complication of mumps. Mumps virus can be found in the saliva, throat and urine of an infected person and mumps is usually spread through the air by respiratory droplets or by contact with the saliva of an infected person. The time between when a person encounters a person infected with mumps and first begins to experience symptoms of mumps (incubation period) ranges from 7 to 23 days. The illness lasts for an average of 7-10 days but may last longer before symptoms completely disappear.

The typical “signature” sign of mumps is visible swelling of one or both sides of the face under the ears and chin. Males who are past puberty can experience pain and extreme swelling of the testes and, in rare cases, can become sterile. Mumps is very rarely fatal.

There are many effective bioregulatory natural home remedies for mumps which are safe and provide relief from pain without any harmful side effects. Aside from rest, the use of a warm or cold compress to ease the pain of swollen glands, and drinking plenty of fluids, the following are two effective herbal treatments for mumps:

Chebulic myrobalan, also known as Terminalia Chebula, is considered a miracle herb that can effectively treat mumps. The herb has anti-inflammatory as well as antibiotic properties that help reduce the swelling.

  • Purchase the dried powder online. Place three tablespoons in a mixer with a little water to make a paste.

  • Apply the paste externally on the areas of the throat and neck where there is swelling.

  • Follow this remedy two or three times daily for a week to get relief from the symptoms.

Ginger compresses are also a wonderful home remedy for mumps thanks to their antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. They also help reduce the swelling and pain.

  • Grate fresh ginger. You can purchase ginger roots in most health food stores or supermarkets.

  • Place the grated ginger inside a cheese cloth to make a poultice.

  • Apply the poultice directly under the jaw line and to the cheeks.

  • Follow this remedy three or four times daily for a week to reduce pain and swelling.

The first human head transplant

The jury is still out on this one, but it does deserve a mention. Scientists have carried out a head transplant on a human corpse, the neurosurgeon behind the operation has announced. At a press conference in Vienna, Austria, Sergio Canavero said his team was able to remove the head from one body and connect it to the body of another by fusing the spine, nerves and blood vessels. He said the next step will be to carry out the operation on a living person.

This lengthy procedure will allow the head to be removed and - along with all the nerve ends and blood vessels - reattached to a new body, and the spinal cord glued with a special bio-compatible glue. Dr. Canavero says that the required technology is available, and he expects a 90% chance of success. Since announcing his plan, Canavero has attracted a barrage of criticism. Most experts agree that his plan is not plausible - with most pointing out that given current technology, spinal cord fusion is not possible.

There are also major ethical concerns regarding the legality of such a procedure, and a worry that the operation will fail, but the head will remain alive. “The surgery is long and tedious, but absolutely feasible,” stated Dr Canavero. “One thing is certain. Spinal cord fusion is a reality and head transplants will happen.” Will we see this in 2018?

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