Archive for the ‘Health issues’ Category

Young Lankan scientist makes life-saving snakebite discovery

July 20, 2014

A landmark discovery by a Sri Lankan scientist could save thousands of lives lost through snakebite the world over.

A snakebite victim’s life often hangs in the balance in the minutes during which doctors watch for symptoms of poisoning before injecting the person with anti-venom as the remedy itself could cause severe allergic reactions that can cause immediate death. Not every snakebite sends poison into the bloodstream: sometimes the fang fails to inject the venom; sometimes the snake had engaged in a recent attack that depleted its venom sacs and the new bite fails to carry enough venom to harm the victim.

Unfortunately, the wait of a few minutes to ascertain such information could mean life or death. It could also cause permanent damage to organs or nerves as once signs of paralysis and muscle damage begin to appear they cannot be reversed by antivenin.

The good news is that scientists have found a blood test that could be successful in detecting whether venom entered into the bloodstream even before symptoms appear.

This breakthrough was made by Dr. Kalana Maduwage of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Peradeniya, who is currently doing his PhD at Newcastle University, Australia, in snake venom science.

He and a team of researchers tested a common enzyme in snake venom called Phospholipase A2 (PLA2). They had collected blood samples from those who had symptoms of snakebite and measured these against blood from people who were not bitten. This particular enzyme was found in high levels in snakebite victims who had the venom penetrate their blood stream.

Dr. Maduwage says that both Sri Lankan and Australian victims of snakebites were tested for this new method. Bites of four venomous Sri Lankan snakes – cobra, krait, Russell’s viper and hump-nosed viper – were tested successfully. Sri Lanka records one of the highest levels of snakebite in the world. According to the Health Ministry nearly 39,000 snakebites are reported to government hospitals every year, ending in approximately 100-150 hospital deaths.

Dr. Maduwage paid special tribute to the supervisors of his study, Professor Geoff Isbister and Dr Margaret O’Leary at the University of Newcastle. Dr Isbister is a world expert on snakebite research and has published more than 250 scientific papers on snakebites and spider bites. Dr. Maduwage said he was lucky to have Professor Isbister as his supervisor.

The work, previously published in Nature Scientific Reports, was presented last month at the Australian Society for Medical Research Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney. Dr. Maduwage is working hard with the team to develop this concept into a bedside test kit that can be easily available around the world.

Dr. Maduwage has more than 10 years’ experience in the study of snakes, especially the hump-nosed pit viper. In addition, he has also discovered and scientifically described 10 varieties of fish, three new snake species and one lizard species. Dr. Maduwage, who is still in Australia doing his PhD applauds the research-friendly environment in Australia but says he will return to Sri Lanka to serve his country upon completion of his PhD and will keep on developing techniques that can save more lives.

How anti-venom is produced  A simplified explanation of how snake antivenin is produced is that extremely small amounts of snake venom are injected into mostly horses on a regular basis over a long period of time. The amounts are so small that the horses are not affected except that their bodies produce antibodies to counteract the foreign substance in their system. After about 10-12 months of this immunological “conditioning” a small proportion of each horse’s blood is removed and the plasma is extracted. This plasma contains the antibodies which, when injected into a snakebite victim, will neutralise snake venom.
Hump-nosed Viper

Hump-nosed Viper

Mercury to be phased out with health warnings

January 27, 2013

The heavy metal that carries heavy health risks is under close scrutiny, writes Malaka Rodrigo�

Mercury is also found in household equipment and instruments, including thermometers and energy saving CFL bulbs. After use, these materials should be disposed of in a responsible way so that their mercury content does not leak into the environment.”

Watch out for the mercury content in beauty products and other common household goods and appliances.
Mercury and its compounds can cause serious health problems, including brain and neurological damage, as well as damage to the kidneys and the digestive system. Victims can also suffer memory loss and language impairment, as well as other health problems.

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) sent out this warning based on findings among countries that advocate international and local screening of beauty and other products for the presence of mercury.

Mercury is a common substance used in whitening cream, but there is no proper safety screening for mercury content in Sri Lanka, says CEJ’s executive director Hemantha Withanage, as well as Cosmetic Devices and Drugs Regulatory Authority (CDDRA) director Dr. Hemantha Beneragama.

All cosmetic products sold in Sri Lanka should be approved by the CDDRA. For now, products are tested only for arsenic and lead content in the heavy metal category, Dr. Beneragama told the Sunday Times. So far no South-Asian country conducts mercury tests, and the Sri Lanka Standards Institute has no defined level for mercury in cosmetics, he said.�

The CDDRA has had discussions with the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) on mercury testing mechanisms, Dr. Beneragama said. Until standards are determined, cosmetics samples will be sent to Singapore for testing. Consumers should avoid cheap unregistered products that would not have been tested for mercury, Dr. Beneragama said

Mercury is also found in household equipment and instruments, including thermometers and energy saving CFL bulbs. After use, these materials should be disposed of in a responsible way so that their mercury content does not leak into the environment. The Central Environment Authority’s hazardous management programme advises consumers to hand over used CFL bulbs to an E-waste recycler.�

The Ministry of Health has recommended phasing out mercury-based thermometers and blood pressure monitoring sphygmomanometers. These instruments are already being phased out at hospitals.
Mercury in the environment can enter the human body through food and food chains, such as fish containing methyl mercury.

A mercury content test was recently conducted in Negombo. Hair and fish samples taken from a Negombo site were sent overseas for testing. The hair samples had between 0.77 and 4.55 parts of mercury per million parts. The Japanese guideline for mercury in seafood is 0.4 parts per million. The local fish samples did not contain a measurable level of mercury. The CEJ pointed out that the research team had collected only one fish species.�

The tests were supervised by the Centre for Environmental Justice and an international body called IPEN, which works for a toxic-free future.

Global mercury agreement

An international convention aimed at eliminating mercury usage was signed in Geneva recently during sessions convened by the United Nations Environment Program, or UNEP.  

The convention is a global, legally-binding treaty to prevent emissions and releases of mercury. The Minamata Convention on Mercury is named after a city in Japan where serious health damage occurred as a result of mercury pollution in the mid-20th century.

Gamini Gamage of the Environment Ministry participated in the talks. He said the new agreement provided controls across a range of products, boosting medical care and better training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects.

Initial funding to fast-track action until the new treaty comes into force in three to five years’ time has been pledged by Japan, Norway and Switzerland.

Through the Minamata Convention, governments have agreed on a range of mercury-containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020.

These include:-

– Batteries, excluding button-cell batteries used in implantable medical devices

– Switches and relays

– Certain types of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)

– Mercury in cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps

– Soaps and cosmetics

–Non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices

Exceptions were allowed for devices for which there are no mercury-free alternatives.

Delegates agreed to a phasing down in dental fillings using mercury amalgam.

Published on SundayTimes on 27.01.2013