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Update–Polio-like illness (acute flaccid paralysis) in California

salk-polio-cartoon

A new version article was updated and published. Comments are closed.

Earlier this year, I reported on an outbreak of a mysterious viral disease that exhibited polio-like symptoms. At the time, around 23 children and young adults were afflicted with the disease. Some of them tested positive for enterovirus-68a member of a genus of viruses that include over 66 different species that can infect humans. None of them tested positive for the polio virus.

Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, a human enterovirus, that spreads from person to person invading the brain and spinal cord and causing paralysis. Because polio has no cure, the polio vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and the only way to stop the disease from spreading.

The United States last experienced a polio epidemic in the 1950s, prior to the introduction of the polio vaccine 60 years ago. Today, polio has been eradicated from most of the planet, as the number of worldwide polio cases has fallen from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 223 in 2012—a decline of more than 99% in reported cases.Read More »Update–Polio-like illness (acute flaccid paralysis) in California

Using acupuncture to treat knee pain–no evidence

hellraiser-acupunctureLet’s start right from the beginning–there is no evidence that acupuncture has any significant clinical benefit for any condition. And because there is a small, but significant, risk associated with the acupuncture, the risk to benefit ratio is huge (if not infinity, since there is no benefit). There is simply no reason to accept, even a small risk, if there is no benefit to a procedure.

Just in case you don’t accept my words about acupuncture, Steven Novella, MD, of the Science Based Medicine blog, clarifies why acupuncture does not work:

Clinical research can never prove that an intervention has an effect size of zero. Rather, clinical research assumes the null hypothesis, that the treatment does not work, and the burden of proof lies with demonstrating adequate evidence to reject the null hypothesis. So, when being technical, researchers will conclude that a negative study “fails to reject the null hypothesis.”

Further, negative studies do not demonstrate an effect size of zero, but rather that any possible effect is likely to be smaller than the power of existing research to detect. The greater the number and power of such studies, however, the closer this remaining possible effect size gets to zero. At some point the remaining possible effect becomes clinically insignificant.

In other words, clinical research may not be able to detect the difference between zero effect and a tiny effect, but at some point it becomes irrelevant.Read More »Using acupuncture to treat knee pain–no evidence

Update to the LeRoy (NY) teenagers’ mystery neurological illnesses

oatka-creek-leroy-nyOver the past couple of years, I had written a few articles about a mystery neurological ailment that had struck about 20 teenagers, most of whom were students in high school at that time in LeRoy, NY, a small town about 30 minutes from the city of Rochester. The teens suffered tics and other neurological symptoms that seemed to mimick Tourette syndrome, but was never diagnosed as such.

None of the teens had ever exhibited other symptoms of a neurological deficit, and most of them have subsequently recovered. Two new cases appeared in 2013, but none since.

Numerous individuals, including officials of the Monroe County and New York State Departments of Health, attorneys, antivaccination cultists, and others whose speculation ran from useful to outright delusional.  Many individuals who “diagnosed” the teens without actually ever meeting them (proper diagnosis of neurodevelopment disorders requires one on one assessment, not the famous “let’s diagnose medicine over the internet).Read More »Update to the LeRoy (NY) teenagers’ mystery neurological illnesses

Chiropractic manipulation of neck may cause stroke

chiropractic-ad-cardI usually don’t dwell too much on chiropractic, because so many other bloggers mock them so well. Chiropractors are generally antivaccination, they practice junk medicine in areas in which they are not trained, and they are essentially quacks utilizing some mystical alternative medicine, taking money from people who think they’re getting real medical treatment.

Basically, chiropractic is the belief in the “vertebral subluxation processes” that purportedly can be used to treat and cure a vast range of diseases which have no scientifically verified connection to vertebral anatomy. It’s based on the same general type of pseudoscientific mysticism that one finds with acupuncture.

Of course, modern chiropractic has tried to divorce itself from the vertebral subluxation, and attempted to evolve into the slightly more mainstream chiropractic treatment technique that involves manual therapy, including manipulation of the spine, other joints, and soft tissues. Chiropractic treatment also includes exercises and health and lifestyle counseling. Barely anything more than a good masseuse would provide to an individual.

Despite this evolution of chiropractic to the point that some health insurance companies actually pay for the procedures, chiropractic is a typical pseudoscience–make outlandish claims, minimize or ignore the risks, and make money off of those who think, or want to believe, that it works.

It’s appalling that some people, many who think that vaccines are dangerous (they’re not), believe that a chiropractor, who has very little real medical training, should manipulate the neck of a baby to treat some imaginary, or even real, condition. It boggles the mind.

Read More »Chiropractic manipulation of neck may cause stroke

Amy Farrah Fowler is going to talk to teachers about science

Next week, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), an organization devoted “to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all,” is having their annual meeting in Boston, MA. Normally, I would not write much about this group, because they do good stuff for science, and I tend to focus on those individuals and groups that do bad stuff for science. 

One of the guest speakers at this year’s NSTA conference is Mayim Bialik, who plays a neuroscientist on CBS-TV’s The Big Bang Theory (TBBT). In case you’re not a fan of the show, it is one of the better written shows on TV (a moderate standard, indeed). It follows the lives of four main male characters, who are all researchers at the California Institute of Technology, Cal Tech, one of the premier science institutions in the USA. The show continues to make obscure, but funny, references to scientific ideas, Star Trek, comics, and just about anything geeky. 

Bialik plays not only a neuroscientist by the name of Amy Farrah Fowler, but the girlfriend (kind of, sort of, who knows) of one the main characters, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, a quirky theoretical physicist. But what is particularly amazing is that Bialik actually does have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCLA (as does the famous atheist and science philosopher, Sam Harris), and wrote her doctoral dissertation about a rare genetic disease, Prader-Willi Syndrome, which manifests itself with various neurological and neuromuscular deficits. Frankly, it’s brilliant work.Read More »Amy Farrah Fowler is going to talk to teachers about science

Why we vaccinate-shingles may increase risk of stroke

shingles-vaccineThis article, originally published on 2 January 2014 has been updated to include more information about studies regarding chickenpox in children and its effect on rate of shingles outbreaks.

Shingles, known medically as Herpes zoster (HZ), is caused by the Varicella zoster virus (VZV), which causes chickenpox in children. After the chickenpox infection, VZV latently persists, without symptoms, in the basal ganglia including the trigeminal ganglion. For unknown reasons, VZV is reactivated from latency, and moves along sensory nerves to the endings in the skin, where it replicates causing the characteristic HZ rash, commonly called shingles.

There is no known cure for VZV, though it can be treated with antiviral medications. Although the infection presents with a rash, commonly fairly painful, it usually subsides within three to five weeks. Unfortunately, about one in five patients develop a painful condition called postherpetic neuralgia, which is often difficult to manage. Because VZV is never eliminated, after a shingles attack, VZV again becomes latent, to attack again sometime in the future.Read More »Why we vaccinate-shingles may increase risk of stroke

Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science

ginkgo-health-benefits-bullshitGinkgo biloba is actually an interesting plant because it has been relatively unchanged for nearly 270 million years. It is considered a living fossil, an informal term used for species like G. biloba that appear to be the same as a species otherwise only known from fossils and which has no close living relatives. The genus Ginkgo was fairly widely distributed until about 100 million years ago. It slowly disappeared from the fossil record until it was found only in one small part of China about 5 million years ago, where it is found today.  

The tree is native to China and is known to have been widely cultivated early in human history. It is used as a food source by various Asian cultures, with the Chinese eating the meaty gametophytes and the Japanese the whole seed. Unfortunately, the seed also contains a chemical, 4′-O-methylpyridoxine, that can be poisonous if consumed in a sufficiently large enough quantity. Read More »Ginkgo biloba and the brain–myth vs. science

Jenny McCarthy’s evil twin–Amy Farrah Fowler

©2013, CBS
©2013, CBS

If you’re a fan of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (TBBT), a show about five highly educated geek/hipsters (and all doing scientific research as their career, which makes me happy that my career choice ended up as a great TV show) and the girl next door who is in love with one of the highly educated geek/hipsters. One of the main characters is Amy Farrah Fowler, who is a Ph.D. level neurobiologist who has a complicated relationship with one of the male characters on the show. At this point, you’d be wondering if I was hallucinating, because how could Amy Farrah Fowler be a twin of Jenny McCarthy, let alone an evil twin? 

But there’s a method to my madness. Or logic.

Unless you were studying meltwater lakes in the Arctic (an overhyped and incorrect story, by the way), you probably knew that the former Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy was chosen by ABC TV (in the USA) to be a co-host on the daytime talk show, The View. Let’s just say that this has not been met positively by much of the skeptical, pro-science blogging and journalism community. In fact, from what I’ve read, hardly anyone but the vaccine denier lunatic fringe is happy about her choice a co-host.

Dr. Fowler is played by the actress Mayim Bialik, who is not only a fairly accomplished actress, starring in two successful TV series (Blossom being the other), but during a break from acting she went to college and graduate school, and earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from an academically elite university, UCLA (the University of California at Los Angeles). In other words, Dr. Bialik is everything that Jenny McCarthy is not–she is a successful actress with fairly good comedic abilities, she is extremely well educated at a real university (as opposed to Jenny McCarthy’s claim of being educated at the University of Google), and, as far as I know, Bialik has not posed nude for Playboy, though I suppose that being featured in Playboy is not an indicator of intellect.

To be honest, I thought it would be great to see a young, well educated woman succeeding on a hit TV show. Moreover, she gets to play a young, well-educated, albeit somewhat more nerdy, dopplegänger of her real life self on TBBT.

So you’re asking, exactly how can she be an evil twin of the uneducated, unsuccessful, Playboy-shilling, McCarthy?

Read More »Jenny McCarthy’s evil twin–Amy Farrah Fowler

Updates: LeRoy mystery neurological illnesses

This article is an update of one I wrote several months ago. I had presumed the story had ended. It hadn’t.

Background

In spring 2012, I had written a few articles about a mystery neurological ailment that had struck about 20 teenagers at a high school and surrounding area in LeRoy, NY, a small town about 30 minutes from the city of Rochester. They suffered tics that mimicked Tourette syndrome, but was never diagnosed as such. Most of them have recovered, although two new cases have appeared.

Medical and scientific findings

First, Erin Brockovich, yes THAT Erin Brockovich, decided to get involved. In an announcement in August, they stated that they found nothing:

There is no link specifically that I can draw to environmental exposure because there are so many environmental exposures that occurred at the high school. Read More »Updates: LeRoy mystery neurological illnesses