Bugs getting under your skin?

I used to watch the X-Files when I was a little kid but I can only actually recall two scenes from the show. One is from an episode where they find an area that causes everything inside it to age more rapidly and the other, more disturbing scene, showed cockroaches crawling under a person’s skin. Thanks to a simple internet search, I now know that that episode was War of the Coprophages, although nothing in the summary triggered any other recollections.

One unfortunate holidaymaker in Bali had a similar, real-life experience. He woke up one morning to find a red trail along his belly. It didn’t respond to creams and continued to lengthen. After the weekend, he went to see a dermatologist who examined the trail and extracted a small spider which had burrowed under his skin through his appendectomy scar!

Keeping with that theme, in India, a man went to the doctor because of a strange itch in his ear. The doctor looked inside and found something strange. Upon extraction it turned out to be a cricket that had crawled into the man’s ear. It was still alive and a lot larger than one would expect. I’ve embedded the video below and there are more details in the video description and earlier link.


Medicine vs alternative medicine in South Africa

One of my recent posts mentioned those people that want to give more recognition to traditional healers; something I think would be a terrible mistake. I’m somewhat buoyed by hearing that the Health Products Association of SA (HPSA), a rather misleading name since they produce alternative medicines, is suing the minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, over coming regulations. It means that the department of health is doing the right thing. The regulations would require even alternative medicines to show that they are both safe and beneficial. Continue reading

Indulging superstitions comes at a real cost

Often we think of people’s superstitions as harmless quirks that have are easily tolerated. No one gets hurt if someone says a prayer before eating, refuses to walk under a ladder or doesn’t go out on Friday the 13th. Those are all superstitions, ie irrational beliefs in the supernatural, but ones that are so common or harmless that we give them a free pass. When some people take their superstitions to even greater extremes, like claiming lego will destroy children’s souls or that Dungeons and Dragons is evil, we find it ridiculous but don’t pay it much attention other than as a curiosity. Continue reading

Two years, still going strong

Today marks the second birthday of my blog. You can read about the first birthday celebrations here. Hopefully the quality of posts has improved since last year, although I know that the overall number has decreased from 100 to 68. There have been some special moments this year which I didn’t include in my top 10 posts are worth noting. Early in the year saw the first guest post (I had a second one planned but that seems to have fallen away) and, a few weeks ago, the publication of my first scientific paper. Continue reading

Evidence is not optional in medicine

July 2013 SAMJ (Source: http://www.samj.org.za)

On Thursday I attended a lecture given by my dad to a cardiac support group on the topic of evidence-based medicine (EBM). It was really good, even though I don’t think he’s given a lecture for over 20 years. While he was preparing I gave him a few resources to help out, such as Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial and one or two papers and blogs that I stumbled upon that looked relevant. One of the papers I sent him was Evidence-based medicine – are we boiling the frog? which is in the latest issue of the South African Medical Journal. It’s only two pages long and open-access so it’s worth reading. It’s one of those interesting times when you agree with everything the person says but then differ on the conclusion. In this case the author’s conclusion is that EBM is important but not necessarily a reflection of the truth. Continue reading

Who are we really?

At the beginning of this year I alluded to a piece I had written for the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement Young Science Communicator’s Competition. The competition results are now available and, unfortunately, I did not win anything. I’m not aware of anything preventing me from sharing my entry with you though so here it is. Continue reading

Mobile phones and the future of medicine

Samsung Galaxy Note (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

When I attended the first UCT Faculty of Health Sciences Postgraduate Research Day, last year, one of the talks concerned using cell phones to empower community healthcare workers. As I recall, this was primarily focussed on rural health-care, where funds and equipment are especially tight. Cellphones, however, are quite common. More than 75% of South Africans use cellphones, making them more popular than radio, television or computers. Some side-effects of this have been a photo series of disguised towers and Mxit, a local chat application, going international. All these phones also have the potential to help improve medical care. Continue reading

Why can’t atheists leave the religious alone?

Often you see the question come up, usually by a religious believer, of why atheists challenge other people’s beliefs. Shouldn’t we all be tolerant and just leave each other alone? I think you’ll find most atheists would be fairly happy with that state of affairs (it’s called secularism). That’s not to say they will be completely satisfied but at that point, where religion becomes a private matter, there will probably be far fewer clashes. I would still think they are wrong but I also think they should be free to believe what they will. Why, then, aren’t we at that point? Simply put it’s because religion is still so ingrained in society and shown such deference that it’s impossible to get away from it. It’s so tightly woven into society that at times it’s probably not even noticed. Continue reading