How epidemics have helped to shape the city of Hong Kong
The city of Hong Kong is shaped by epidemics – from the plague of 1894 to the outbreak of SARS in 2003.
Visible signs of the lessons learned are found on the Taipingshan Medical Heritage trail, including Blake Garden, the Tung Wah Hospital and the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, previously the first pathology lab on the island.
Faith Ho, former Professor of Pathology at the University of Hong Kong and one of the founders of the museum, explains how crowded living conditions in the 19th century helped the plague to spread quickly while we hear some of the personal stories of the staff and patients affected by the SARS epidemic which killed nearly 300 people. At that time medical scientist and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner Chris Chan took his exams wearing a face mask. He describes how in one trial Chinese medicine helps to delay kidney deterioration in his diabetic patients.
And signs of the integration of TCM and westernised medicine are discovered in a beautiful herb garden surrounding the museum. Rose Mak – a retired developmental paediatrician and now chief gardener and Chris Chan describe some of the 250 plant species and their usage including periwinkle and Chinese artmesia.
(Photo caption: Herb garden at the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences)
Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond and produced by Geraldine Fitzgerald
Can we blame our genes for poor sleep?
Using data from the UK Biobank, the largest ever genetic study of its kind has discovered 47 links between our genetic code and the quality, quantity and timing of our sleep. Ten thousand people wore accelerators - Fitbit-like devices - when they went to bed. Accelerators detect when people are not moving and therefore more accurately record when people are asleep and awake, than when people self-report their sleep patterns.
The team at the University of Exeter Medical School, in the UK, examined about a million genetic variants and looked to see whether any of them were at higher frequency in those people that slept poorly. Geneticist Dr Mike Weedon is one of the senior authors of the study, which has just been published in the journal Nature Communications.
With a population of around 5 million people, Scotland has one of the highest drug-related death rates in Europe. The majority of these deaths involve opioids such as heroin, morphine and methadone.
Back in 2011 the Scottish Government responded to the situation by setting up a national programme supplying kits of naloxone, a medication which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose within minutes. Recipients of the kit also receive a short training session on how to administer the drug in an emergency.
Eight years after the introduction of these kits, there has been a dramatic drop in the numbers of people dying from overdoses in one of the categories of people at high risk. For Health Check, Pauline Moore visits an addiction recovery cafe in the city of Glasgow.
It is already established that doing shift work overnight is bad for our health. But what about people who work during the daytime, but occasionally have to stay on and work a night as well, such as doctors working in hospitals. How are they affected? A team at Hong Kong University decided to study a group of doctors in order to investigate the damage caused by this type of sleep deprivation. The research has just been published in the journal Anaesthesia, and scientists Dr Gordon Wong and Dr Choi Siu Wai, tell Claudia about their findings.
(Photo caption: Woman yawning in bed – credit: Getty Images)
Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from Dr Graham Easton
Producer: Helena Selby
Attacks on medical facilities in conflict zones
Fifteen medical royal colleges in the UK and the British Medical Association are urging the UK Government to take action over the targeting of medical staff working in conflict zones. It used to be the case that having a red cross or a red crescent on a medical tent or ambulance or hospital offered protection, as it was a clear sign that the staff inside were neutral and were simply trying to save lives. But in recent times doctors and nurses have found themselves to be targets.
A report from Global Health Now says that in 2018 there were 950 attacks on health facilities and personnel in 23 countries including Syria, Iraq and Yemen, killing more than 150 health workers and injuring more than 700. Professor Tony Redmond has worked in many conflicts as an emergency physician and is now president of the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine.
How would you feel if the doctor prescribed you a night at the bingo, instead of a box of pills? It might seem far-fetched, but that is the idea behind ‘social prescribing’, a scheme that hopes to address some of the underlying problems, such as isolation or stress, that can affect our health. A pilot study conducted in the UK found that linking patients with support and activities within their community was associated with a 20% drop in A&E attendances, and a positive change in the well-being of 83% of participants. To find out more, Health Check prescribed reporter Madeleine Finlay a dance lesson.
We all know that if someone is feeling anxious, taking a few deep breaths can sometimes help them feel a bit better, but could breathing in help people to think better too? New research from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel has found that our breathing patterns can affect our cognition. Professor Noam Sobel tells Claudia about their discovery, the results of which have just been published in the journal Nature.
Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from health reporter Katie Silver
(Photo: Syrians salvage medical items from a hospital following an air strike in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
What can we learn from gut sounds?
Doctors in Australia are hoping that by listening carefully and recording the rumbles and other sounds in the gut, it might help them to both diagnose and treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The man leading this research is the Nobel-prize winning Barry Marshall, who is Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the University of Western Australia. He famously discovered that stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria, a discovery he made by bravely drinking a soup laced with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. The idea for listening to gut sounds came about after his engineering colleagues told him about microphones sensitive enough to hear termites making scratching sounds under houses.
Tuberculosis, or TB, is the deadliest infectious disease in the world, killing more than HIV, Ebola and malaria combined; roughly 1.6 million people each year. TB is curable, but treatments can be long and harsh, involving taking large numbers of pills every day for many months. It can be so unpleasant that many people do not finish their treatment. Interrupted and incomplete treatment has led to the rise of drug-resistant forms of TB, which are even harder to treat and have harsher side-effects. Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia, is in the top 30 countries with the biggest epidemics of drug-resistant forms of TB, but has now become an early adopter of new drugs and treatment regimens. Hannah McNeish travelled to Kyrgyzstan to see the life-saving and game-changing results.
(Photo caption: Drawing of large intestine on a woman’s body - credit: Getty Images)
Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Health and Science correspondent, James Gallagher.
Producer: Helena Selby