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by Ruth Long

Yesterday, a friend and neighbor told me that she was chastised for nursing her daughter in a DC public library.  She had placed herself in a discreet corner and covered herself and her child who was nursing, while she read a book to her older child.  The librarian then confronted this woman and told her to “cover up.”  At what point in human society did the notion of seeing a mother nursing her child become vulgar?  This is one of the most basic human rights that we are all entitled to.

According to the DC Code D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.81 et seq., “breastfeeding is part of the definition of discrimination on the basis of sex, to ensure a woman’s right to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where she has the right to be with her child.” (See the National Conference of State Legislatures site for more on breastfeeding laws in different states. )   Obviously the librarian did not know, understand, or care about the law protecting the women who are nursing their children. 

We have been bombarded for years about the importance of breastfeeding and how it benefits both mother and child.  (Refer to the World Health Organization’s website on breastfeeding for more information on why breastfeeding is essential, when it can be done safely, and how to create a safe and welcoming environment for the mother and child.)  Why are we still facing fear and ignorance in regard to breastfeeding?  Who is promoting the alternatives and why? 

My only hope is that enough people will speak to this librarian and/or her supervisor so that this scenario never happens again, at least in this venue.  We must stand up together to fight against discrimination and protect this basic human right.

Ruth Long, MPH, MA lives on Capitol Hill in DC with her husband and son. She is expecting her 2nd baby and is planning to breastfeed him or her on demand.


by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

Things have been quiet at CDC but apparently they have been changing. First, Dr. Richard Besser, who acquitted himself ably as Acting Director after January 20 until early June when Obama’s new appointment, Dr. Thomas Frieden took over, has decided to leave CDC for television. Yes, television. Many at CDC will be sorry to see him leave. He was “the people’s choice” for new Director, as one old CDC hand put it. I had heard that he had once had a TV show in California prior to his CDC days and he’s obviously telegenic, articulate and knowledgeable. He will be joining ABC News as its senior health and medical editor. ABC says it is expanding its coverage, but realistically is probably looking to the day when its well respected Chief Medical Editor, Dr. Tim Johnson, retires. Johnson has not announced any intention to retire, but he is 73 (he is also an extremely nice person; I have been interviewed by him a couple of times and he never fails to impress). CDC’s loss is ABC’s gain. Besser’s position as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response (which handles pandemic flu), will be taken over by another experienced CDC professional, (Dr.) Dan Sosin. People who have worked with him describe Sosin with words like dedicated, smart, thoughtful, conscientious and a nice guy. I heard the same things about Besser, so maybe it’s a good omen.

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Yesterday, President Obama announced his choice for the Surgeon General post: Regina Benjamin, a family doctor who built and repeatedly rebuilt a rural health clinic in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. She was the first African-American woman to be named to the American Medical Association’s Board of Trustees, became President of Alabama’s State Medical Association in 2002, and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008. In his remarks, though, Obama explained that it’s Benjamin’s experience delivering care in an underserved area that makes her such an appropriate choice at this particular moment:

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A few recent items highlight programs and innovations that are helping improve health in developing countries:

If you’ve come across anything recently about a promising approach to tackling global health challenges, feel free to post a link in the comments.

It is with deep sadness we inform you of the sudden passing of Kathyrn R Mahaffey, PhD.   Kate had an exceptional and diverse career, with appointments at FDA, NIOSH, NIEHS and EPA.   Most recently, Kate served as a Professorial Lecturer at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

Her husband, David Jacobs offers the following remembrance and tribute to her significant contributions to the public’s health.   Information about a memorial service appears at the end of this post.

Kathryn R. Mahaffey passed away peacefully in her sleep June 2, 2009 after decades of work that advanced the nation’s health and environment.  She is remembered as a beloved wife, mother, scientist and community member who served as a source of inspiration with her principled and tireless intellect.  She was the rare scientist who knew how to apply the lessons from academic research to protect the public heath.  Her work changed the face of epidemic heavy metal poisoning, endocrine disruptors and many other environmental pollutants that afflict children, pregnant women and at-risk populations. Literally millions of children have avoided the tragedy of lead and mercury poisoning as a consequence of her work. 

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I think it was around Christmastime last year, while frantically traipsing through the mall in search of bargains, that an over-eager kiosk salesperson stepped into my path.  Wonderful, I thought.  Another person trying to sell me overpriced hand cream. I tried to go around her, hoping she’d get the hint—to no avail.  Oddly, instead of launching into a speech about my unhealthy cuticles, she asked me if I was a smoker.

And that’s when I noticed she was selling e-cigarettes:  plastic cigarettes that look almost exactly like the real deal. (They even puff out odorless vapor that looks strikingly like cigarette smoke.)  She explained to me that these can be a great tool for quitting smoking, because they look and feel like cigarettes.  “It’s just like smoking, but without the nasty health effects.”

What a cool idea, I thought.  My father, a former (heavy) smoker, told me once that quitting smoking was a total nightmare for him.  Why? Because he didn’t just crave the nicotine in the cigarettes; he craved the whole smoking ritual: taking that first puff of the day while sipping his coffee, taking breaks at work and chatting with his friends, etc, etc.  Quitting smoking wasn’t just about omitting nicotine from his life; it was about changing his lifestyle.

From that perspective, e-cigarettes seem like a good way to ease the transition from smoker to non-smoker. They look like cigarettes, taste like cigarettes, and feel like cigarettes but the “smoker” is no longer exposed to  40+ human carcinogens multiple times a day.  On top of that, e-cigarettes don’t produce that thick, noxious cloud of smoke that clings to your hair, skin, and clothing, and makes everyone around you cough.   “I feel like this could save my life,” said one satisfied customer, who reported cutting her smoking from 3 packs a day to 1 ½ packs a day.(1)

But Katie Zezima of the New York Times astutely points out the dark side of these products—namely, that we don’t really know anything about how safe they are. Read the rest of this entry »

by Pete Galvin

You never learn much from a “wired” confirmation hearing, and that was true yesterday at the hearing for Cass Sunstein to be director of OIRA.  Only three Senators bothered to come (apart from his former student, now the Senator from Minnesota, who introduced him before leaving) and two short rounds of questions were designed to let him place on the record a few key statements to respond to interest groups.  

He is, he assured them, not in favor of banning hunting; he thinks both OSHA and the Clean Air Act are constitutional; and his number one priority at OIRA is to follow the requirements of the Congress in each case.  That last point is not unimportant for OSHA and MSHA, although it will be a while before either can get around to testing the proposition. 

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Labor Secretary Solis announced today the next step in OSHA’s effort to propose a rule to protect workers exposed to the butter-flavoring agent diacetyl.  The Small Business Administration and OSHA identified 13 “small-entity representatives” (SERs, defined by SBA as companies with 500 or fewer employees nationwide) to serve on the panel which allows them to review the proposed regulatory text and regulatory analysis, and make recommendations for changes to the draft proposed rule before it is published in the Federal Register for the standard public comment period.   In OSHA’s letter to the SERs, the agency indicated that it expected to hold the teleconference panel meeting during the week of May 18.  The SERs invited to participate in this pre-proposal review include: 

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by Kas

Joe Biden was on NBC earlier saying, “I would tell members of my family — and I have — I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now.” As examples of confined places, he mentions planes and subways.

Mr. Vice President, would you ride the train to Delaware tonight?  Say it ain’t so, Joe.  We know that you live in D.C. now and that your daily commute in that “confined place” has been eliminated for the time being.  But, what about the rest of us?  Who uses the “confined places” of public transportation the most?  Who is inside those “confined places” classrooms?  And how do these people perceive risks associated with “germs”?

I have a feeling they might feel like the young man on the street interviewed on the 10:00 PM news the other night.  He felt that he was prepared for the flu because he had stocked up on his face masks and antibiotics. Evidently, we still have a long way to go in getting across the messages that antibiotics won’t help viral illnesses, and that using them unnecessarily contributes to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 

Maybe they don’t understand what it means when they hear the terms H1N1 virus or N95 filtering facepiece.

Maybe they were flipping through the television stations the other day and, like me, happened to stop on the Christian Broadcasting Network right in time to hear Pat Robertson on the 700 Club state (I’m paraphrasing) that to improve fuel efficiency, airplanes maximize recirculation of air, thus decreasing the indoor air quality on planes (resulting in everyone breathing in each other’s air.) Here’s a YouTube clip – it starts at 3:15.

Shame on you Joe.  Shame on you Pat.  You know that your names and your faces are more widely-recognized than any public health official’s name or face.  You know that you bear the responsibility to get it right not just because you’ve both gotten it wrong before, but because there are a lot of people out there who still like you and may be inclined to believe at face value what you’re saying.

The public health community has the knowledge, skills, and abilities to assess and characterize risks.  If you think that the air inside these “confined places” is unsafe, then let’s do something about it.  Please promote and preserve human health and safety by getting the facts from a public health subject matter expert and referring or deferring to that source.

Kas is an industrial hygienist studying public health in the DC metro area.

The U.S. government has declared a public health emergency over the swine flu. In a White House press briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano emphasized that this is analogous to the emergencies declared for the recent floods in Minnesota and North Dakota and for the inauguration – it allows resources to be freed up to deal with the anticipated challenges. The U.S. has 50 million treatment courses of antivirals stockpiled, and will release 25% of those for use by the states, with priority given to states in which cases of this swine flu subtype have been confirmed.

So far, those states are New York, California, Texas, Kansas, and Ohio, and the total of confirmed cases now stands at 20; CDC Acting Director Richard Besser stated in the press briefing that only one individual has had to be hospitalized, and all of the confirmed cases have recovered.

According to the Associated Press, Mexico has now reported 86 deaths, with 22 of those confirmed as swine flu; the total official number sickened with suspected swine flu still stands at 1,384. Canada has now confirmed 6 cases, and New Zealand, Spain, France, Israel, and Brazil all have suspected cases.

So far, Mexico hasn’t suspended flights out of the country but is giving questionnaires to all departing passengers about flu symptoms. Airports worldwide are screening passengers arriving from Mexico for flu-like symptoms.

Here in the US, there’s no reason to panic, and it sounds like DHS and CDC are taking appropriate actions – surveillance and constant communication internally and with health officials from other countries and the WHO. What we all should be doing is following the usual flu season advice: frequent and thorough handwashing, covering your coughs and sneezes, and limiting your contact with others if you have symptoms.


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