I’ve always wondered: why your nose runs when it’s cold

 Even if you’re not sick, your nose runs 
when it’s cold. Why?

So, Why does your nose run when it’s cold? It seems counterintuitive?

About 50-90% of people get a runny nose when it’s cold. We call this “cold-induced rhinitis”, or “skier nose”. People with asthma, eczema and hay fever seem to experience it more.

It’s the job of your nose to make the air you breathe in warm and wet so that when it gets to your lungs it does not irritate the cellsWhen inhaling air through the nose at subfreezing temperatures, the air in the back of the nose is usually about 26°C, but can be as high as 30°C. And the humidity of air at the back of the nose is usually around 100%, irrespective of how cold the air is we’re breathing in.

This shows the nose is very effective at making sure the air we breath becomes warm and wet before it reaches the lungs.

So how does it do this? Cold, dry air stimulates the nerves inside your nose, which send a message through your nerves to your brain. Your brain then responds to this impulse by increasing the blood flow to the nose, and these dilated blood vessels warm the air passing over them. Secondly, the nose is triggered to produce more secretions via the mucous glands in order to provide the moisture to humidify the air coming through.

Image of a woman blowing her nose
Treatment is usually just to carry a hanky or tissue! from www.shutterstock.com

The cold, dry air also stimulates cells of your immune system (called “mast cells”) in your nose. These cells trigger the production of more liquid in your nose to make the air more moist. It’s estimated you can lose up to 300-400mL of fluid daily through your nose as it performs this function.

Heat and water loss are closely related: heating the air in the nasal cavities means the lining of the nasal cavity (mucosa) becomes cooler than core body temperature; at the same time, water evaporates (becomes vapour) to make the air moist. Water evaporation, which requires large amounts of heat, takes heat from the nose, thus making it cooler.

In response, the blood flow to the nose increases further, as the task of warming the air that’s breathed in takes precedence over heat loss from the nose (the body’s normal response to cold is to shunt blood away from the surface to the deep vessels to minimise heat loss from the skin). So it’s a difficult balancing act to achieve the correct amount of heat and moisture lost from the nose.

When the compensatory mechanism is a little too overactive, moisture in excess of that needed to humidify this cold, dry air will drip from the nostrils. Mast cells are usually more sensitive in people with asthma and allergies, and blood vessel changes more reactive in those who are sensitive to environmental irritants and temperature changes. So nasal congestion and even sneezing can be triggered by the cold air.

Treatment is usually simply to carry some tissues or a handkerchief. Although the use of anticholinergic (blocks nerve impulses) and anti-inflammatory nasal sprays such as Atropine and Ipratropium have been trialled with some success.


Medical student Caitlin Saunders also contributed to this article.


This article was written by:
Image of David King David King – [Senior Lecturer, The University of Queensland]

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

 

Health Check: does drinking alcohol kill the germs it comes into contact with?

 Some cultures believe drinking alcohol 
will kill the germs that cause a sore throat or a tummy bug.

Alcohol is a well-known disinfectant and some have speculated it may be useful for treating gut infections. Could alcohol be a useful agent to treat tummy bugs and throat infections?

Wine has long been known for its disinfecting and cleansing properties. According to historical records, in the third century AD Roman generals recommended wine to their soldiers to help prevent dysentery.

Can alcohol kill germs in our guts and mouths?

Wine was examined as part of a 1988 study that tested a number of common beverages (carbonated drinks, wine, beer, skim milk and water) for their antibacterial effect. The beverages were inoculated with infectious gut bacteria such as salmonella, shigella and E.coli. After two days it was found the organisms fared worst in red wine. Beer and carbonated drinks had an effect but were not as effective as wine.

A number of years later a laboratory study was carried out to work out what in wine was causing the antibacterial effect. The researchers tested red wine on salmonella and compared it to a solution containing the same alcohol concentration and pH level (acidic).

Red wine was seen to possess intense antibacterial activity, which was greater than the solution with the same concentration of alcohol and pH. Even though a large proportion of the antibacterial effect of red wine against salmonella was found to be due to its acid pH and alcohol concentration, these factors only partly explained the observed effects.

The concentration of alcohol is certainly important for the effect on bugs (microbes). For alcohol hand rubs a high alcohol concentration in the range of 60-80% is considered optimal for antimicrobial activity.

laboratory study looked at the penetration of alcohol into groups of microorganisms in the mouth and its effect on killing microbes. Alcohol concentrations lower than 40% were found to be significantly weaker in affecting bacterial growth. Alcohol with a 10% concentration had almost no effect.

The exposure time of alcohol was also important. When 40% alcohol (the same concentration as vodka) was used the effect on inhibiting the growth of these microorganisms was much greater when applied over 15 minutes compared to six minutes. It was determined that 40% alcohol had some ability to kill oral bacteria with an exposure time of at least one minute.

Can alcohol damage the stomach?

In a study involving 47 healthy human volunteers, different alcohol concentrations (4%, 10%, 40%) or saline, as a control, were directly sprayed on the lower part of the stomach during a gastroscopy (where a camera is inserted down into the stomach through the mouth).

The greater the concentration of alcohol, the more damage was observed in the stomach. Erosions accompanied by blood were the typical damage observed in the stomach. No damage was observed in the small bowel. Stomach injury caused by higher alcohol concentrations (greater than 10%) took more than 24 hours to heal.

So in theory a high enough concentration of alcohol swallowed (or kept in the mouth for at least a minute) would kill a large number of gut and oral bacteria, but it would very likely do some damage to the stomach lining.

Chronic use of alcohol can also lead to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small bowel. This has been thought to be linked to gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, which are frequently noted in alcoholic patients.

So what’s the verdict?

Alcohol consumption can lead to some immediate damage to the gut, with greater damage seen at higher concentrations. In theory a high enough alcohol concentration with sufficient exposure to gut or oral tissue could kill bacteria but will in all likelihood also damage the gut lining.

It’s not advised alcohol be used as a regular disinfectant to treat tummy bugs or throat infections.


This article was written by:
Image of Vincent HoVincent Ho – [Lecturer and clinical academic gastroenterologist, Western Sydney University]

 

 

 

 

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Eight simple changes to our neighbourhoods can help us age well

 

Staying physically active can play a
big part in ageing well – and a well-designed neighbourhood helps with that. 

Where we live can play a big part in ageing well, largely because of the links between physical activity and wellbeing. Research shows that two-thirds of Australians prefer to age in place. That is, we want to live independently in our homes for as long as we can. Our neighbourhoods and their design can then improve or hinder our ability to get out of the house and be physically active.

The rapid ageing of Australia’s population only adds to the importance of neighbourhood design. In 2016, 15% of Australians were aged 65 or older. That proportion is projected to double by 2056.

These trends present several social and economic challenges, particularly for the health sector. Designing neighbourhoods in ways that promote physical activity can help overcome these challenges.

Eight simple steps

The following is a short list of evidence-based steps local and state governments can take to assist older people to be physically active. These involve minor but effective changes to neighbourhood design.

Improve footpaths: Research indicates that older people have a higher risk of falls. Ensuring footpaths are level and crack-free, and free from obstructions, will encourage walking among older people – especially those with a disability.

More crap that should not be on the city’s footpaths. There is ample room on the roadway- no bike lane or clearway to block 

Connected pedestrian networks: Introducing footpaths at the end of no-through-roads and across long street blocks reduces walking distances to destinations. This makes walking a more viable option.

Slowing traffic in high-pedestrian areas: Slowing traffic improves safety by reducing the risk of a collision. It also reduces the risk of death and serious injury in the event of a collision.

Age-friendly street crossings: Installing longer pedestrian crossing light sequences gives older pedestrians more time to cross, and installing refuge islands means those who walk more slowly can cross the street in two stages.

Disabled access at public transport: Although a form of motorised transport, public transport users undertake more incidental physical activity compared with car users. This is because they walk between transit stops and their origins and destinations. Improving disabled access helps make public transport a viable option for more older people.

Greg Day, man about  is now able to be man about Melbourne following @yarratrams terminus upgrade on  

  

Places to rest: Providing rest spots such as benches enables older people to break up their walk and rest when needed.

Planting trees: Planting trees creates more pleasant scenery to enjoy on a walk. It also provides shade on hot days.

Improving safety: Ensuring that streets are well-lit and reducing graffiti and signs of decay are likely to improve perceptions of safety among older people.

Why physical activity matters

Physical function – the ability to undertake everyday activities such as walking, bathing and climbing stairs – often declines as people age. The reason for this is that ageing is often accompanied by a reduction in muscle strength, flexibility and cardiorespiratory reserves.

Regular physical activity can prevent or slow the decline in physical function, even among those with existing health conditions.

Middle-to-older aged adults can reduce their risk of physical function decline by 30% with regular physical activity (at least 150 minutes per week). This includes recreational physical activity, like walking the dog, or incidental physical activity, such as walking to the shops or to visit friends.

By making minor changes as outlined above, the health and longevity of our elderly population can be extended. Such changes will help our elderly age well in place.


The Designing Healthy Liveable Cities Conference is being hosted by the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Liveable Communities in Melbourne on October 19-20. You can register here.


This article was co-authored by:
Image of Jerome N RacheleJerome N Rachele – [Research Fellow in Social Epidemiology, Institute for Health and Ageing, Australian Catholic University];
 
Image of Jim SallisJim Sallis – [Professorial Fellow, Institute for Health and Ageing, Australian Catholic University, and Emeritus Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of California, San Diego]
and
Image of Venurs LohVenurs Loh – [PhD Candidate, Institute for Health and Ageing, Australian Catholic University]

 

 

 

 

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Weekly Dose: from laughing parties to whipped cream, nitrous oxide’s on the rise as a recreational drug

 
Nitrous oxide inhaled out of a balloon gives the user euphoric feelings.

Nang is a slang name for the small metal cylinders usually used in whipped cream siphons. They are also called nossies or whippets. The cylinders have about eight grams of nitrous oxide in them that can be inhaled for a euphoric effect.

The 2016 global drug survey found nitrous oxide is the seventh most popular drug in the world excluding alcohol, tobacco and caffeine.

 

Who uses nangs?

Nang use seems to be increasing in Australia. An annual national survey of people who use ecstasy found a significant increase in the number of people also reporting recent nitrous oxide use from 26% of people surveyed in 2015 to 36% in 2016. But not much is known about how widespread nang use is.

The Australian household drug survey does not report nitrous oxide use specifically and does not list it in the range of pharmaceutical drugs or inhalants. A 2013 survey of 1,360 university students in New Zealand found 12% of the sample reported using nangs in the past year. The average number of bulbs used in one session ranged from two to six.

Picture of young people inhaling from balloons
  A survey of NZ university students found 12% had used nangs in the past year. from www.shutterstock.com

How do they work?

Nangs are cheap, legal and easy to get. A box of ten costs less than A$10 and they are stocked in supermarkets and service stations. To use them, the cylinder is pierced and the gas released into a balloon, then inhaled.

A balloon is used because the gas is freezing and can burn the face and lips. It takes about one minute to feel an effect that lasts about one minute.

Nitrous oxide is a colourless gas used for pain relief in hospitals and dentistry. It’s a dissociative anaesthetic. This means that at low doses, it gives a sense of floating and separation from the body without causing unconsciousness.

The positive effects of nangs are reported as euphoria, a feeling of floating and heightened consciousness. The negative effects include nausea, vomiting, disorientation and lack of oxygen to the brain. Some people make strange sounds and movements while intoxicated.

Picture of canisters
Canisters are very cheap. from www.shutterstock.com

Heavy users may get a vitamin B12 deficiency, because nitrous oxide inactivates B12 in the body. The symptoms include numbness and tingling in toes and fingers. Difficulty walking may happen in serious cases, that lasts until B12 levels are increased. Some regular users have reported memory loss and trouble concentrating. Seizures and collapse have also been reported, but usually when nangs are used in combination with other drugs.

How was it developed?

Nitrous oxide was synthesised by an English chemist, Joseph Priestly, in 1722 and used as a recreational drug at laughing gas parties. It wasn’t used as an aid to surgery until 1844.

Manufacturers started using nitrous oxide for whipping cream and making aerosols in 1869 and to increase engine performance in cars. An explosion in a Florida factory where nitrous oxide was made has reduced supplies in the USA, including in whipped cream products.

The word “nang” as a name for small nitrous oxide cylinders appears to be Australian. It’s thought to come from Western Australia, and mimics the sound distortion people hear while intoxicated. Nang is also a British slang word for excellent or awesome.

What are the long-term risks?

Seventeen deaths in six years in the UK were reportedly caused by nitrous oxide, while the USA reports about 15 deaths per year. Australia has not reported any. The long-term health risks associated with nitrous oxide use include B12 deficiency, brain damage from reduced oxygen, incontinence, depression and psychological dependence.

However, there are few reports of people using nangs for long periods of time. Nang use may be overlooked as a health risk because most people using them are likely to use other drugs as well. It’s also important to note that nitrous oxide is linked to climate change, so there are environmental risks too. This gas is about 300 times more damaging than carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.


This article was written by:
Image of Julaine AllanJulaine Allan – [Senior Research Fellow, Charles Sturt University]

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Let’s face it, we’ll be no safer with a national facial recognition database

 Many more faces to be added to a  
national database, but will it make us any safer?

A commitment to share the biometric data of most Australians – including your driving licence photo – agreed at Thursday’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting will result in a further erosion of our privacy.

That sharing is not necessary. It will be costly. But will it save us from terrorism? Not all, although it will give people a false sense of comfort.

Importantly, it will allow politicians and officials to show that they are doing something, in a climate where a hunt for headlines demands the appearance of action.

Your biometric data

Biometric data used in fingerprint and facial recognition systems is indelible. It can be used in authoritative identity registers, featured on identity documents such as passports and driver licences.

It can be automatically matched with data collected from devices located in airports, bus and train stations, retail malls, court buildings, prisons, sports facilities and anywhere else we could park a networked camera.

Australia’s state and territory governments have built large biometric databases through registration of people as drivers – every licence has a photograph of the driver. The national government has built large databases through registration for passports, aviation/maritime security and other purposes.

Irrespective of your consent to uses beyond those for which the picture was taken, the governments now have a biometric image of most Australians, and the ability to search the images.

COAG announced that the governments will share that data in the name of security.

Sharing data with who?

Details of the sharing are very unclear. This means we cannot evaluate indications that images will be captured in both public and private places. For example, in retail malls and libraries or art galleries – soft targets for terrorism – rather than in streets and secure buildings such as Parliament House.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has responded to initial criticism by clarifying that matching will not involve “live” CCTV.

But the history of Australian surveillance law has been a matter of creep, with step-by-step expansion of what might initially have been an innocuous development. When will law enforcement agencies persuade their ministers to include live public or private CCTV for image matching?

We cannot tell which officials will be accessing the data and what safeguards will be established to prevent misuse. Uncertainty about safeguards is worrying, given the history of police and other officials inappropriately accessing law enforcement databases on behalf of criminals or to stalk a former partner.

The sharing occurs in a nation where Commonwealth, state and territory privacy law is inconsistent. That law is weakly enforced, in part because watchdogs such as the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) are under-resourced, threatened with closure or have clashed with senior politicians.

Australia does not have a coherent enforceable right to privacy. Instead we have a threadbare patchwork of law (including an absence of a discrete privacy statute in several jurisdictions).

The new arrangement has been foreshadowed by governments over several years. It can be expected to creep, further eroding privacy and treating all citizens as suspects.

Software and hardware providers will be delighted: there’s money to be made by catering to our fears. But we should be asking some hard questions about the regime and questioning COAG’s statement.

Let’s avoid a privacy car crash

Will sharing and expansion of the biometric network – a camera near every important building, many cameras on every important road – save us from terrorism? The answer is a resounding no. Biometrics, for example, seems unlikely to have saved people from the Las Vegas shooter.

Will sharing be cost effective? None of the governments have a great track record with major systems integration. The landscape is littered with projects that went over budget, didn’t arrive on time or were quietly killed off.

Think the recent Census and Centrelink problems, and the billion dollar bust up known as the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record.

It won’t be improved by a new national ID card to fix the Medicare problem.

Is the sharing proportionate? One answer is to look at experience in India, where the Supreme Court has comprehensively damned that nation’s ambitious Aadhaar biometric scheme that was meant to solve security, welfare and other problems.

The Court – consistent with decisions in other parts of the world – condemned the scheme as grossly disproportionate: a disregard of privacy and of the dignity of every citizen.

Is sharing likely to result in harms, particularly as the biometric network grows and grows? The answer again is yes. One harm, disregarded by our opportunistic politicians, is that all Australians and all visitors will be regarded as suspects.

Much of the data for matching will be muddy – some street cameras, for example, are fine resting places for pigeons – and of little value.

As with the mandatory metadata retention scheme, the more data (and more cameras) we have the bigger trove of indelible information for hackers. Do not expect the OAIC or weak state privacy watchdogs (which in some jurisdictions do not exist) to come to the rescue.

As a society we should demand meaningful consultation about official schemes that erode our rights. We should engage in critical thinking rather than relying on headlines that reflect political opportunism and institutional self-interest.

The incoherent explanation and clarifications should concern everyone, irrespective of whether they have chosen to be on Facebook – and even if they have nothing to hide and will never be mistaken for someone else.


This article was written by:
Image of Bruce Baer Arnold Bruce Baer Arnold – [Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra]

 

 

 

 

 

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Tom Petty died from a cardiac arrest – what makes this different to a heart attack and heart failure?

 
Tom Petty was said to have died from a heart attack, 
when it was actually a cardiac arrest. MIKE NELSON/EPA/AAP

Rolling Stone magazine landed in a spot of bother on Monday after publicising news of rock star Tom Petty’s death prematurely, while others said it was the result of a heart attack rather than a cardiac arrest. Petty unfortunately did subsequently pass away, from a cardiac arrest, but it’s important to note neither a cardiac arrest nor a heart attack is synonymous with death.

Albeit infrequently, sufferers of cardiac arrest can be revived and a heart attack is associated with a relatively low risk of dying within 18 months with current treatment in Australia. Both are types of heart disease, as is heart failure. So what are the differences between cardiac arrest, heart attack and heart failure?

The heart beats in a very controlled and synchronised manner. from shutterstock.com

Cardiac arrest

The easiest way to understand these conditions is to think of the heart like a building and approach it like a tradesman. Cardiac arrest is the sparkie’s domain because it’s essentially an electrical failure. The heart beats in a very controlled and synchronised manner, due to a flow of electricity from the “pacemaker” cells at the top of the heart (sinoatrial node) steadily down to the base.

The wiring is present throughout the heart, because the heart muscle cells themselves transmit and respond to this electrical signal, beating as it travels through and powers them. But there are also “mains” electricity circuits that direct the flow of energy and can act as backups along the way if one part of the circuit fails. These are the atrioventricular node, “bundle of His” and “Purkinje fibres” – all can cause the heart to beat, but at a slower rate than the sinoatrial node.

All this doesn’t always go according to plan. Diseases such as blocked arteries, genetic conditions and degeneration of the heart with ageing can cause disruptions to the circuit.

This may result in two things. The first is a power failure, with no electricity whatsoever – called “asystole”. The second is a surge of electricity from an area of the heart muscle that is disruptive and prevents the heart from pumping properly – the most dangerous of these surges are commonly referred to as ventricular arrhythmias. These are the two main types of cardiac arrest.

Both these conditions will stop the heart pumping. Because blood can no longer travel to the brain, the person will lose consciousness.

In the movies, they are treated with defibrillator paddles delivering electric shocks in a dramatic manner. But while this is an important treatment for ventricular arrhythmias, as it is able to re-organise the surge of electricity, it is ineffective for asystole (where there is no electricity at all).

Picture of paddles being used to revive a patient
In the movies, people with cardiac arrest are treated with paddles delivering electric shocks in a dramatic manner. from shutterstock.com

In this case, good-quality CPR is crucial. If someone is left too long without blood supply to their brain and the rest of the body, they will die. Survival from cardiac arrest occurring outside of a hospital setting in Australia is 24% after the day of event, dropping to 11.5% at one year later.

Heart attack

This is the plumber’s area. While a heart attack is often used to describe a range of heart problems, it actually refers to what is medically termed an acute myocardial infarction, or AMI.

The heart provides blood to the rest of the body, but it also needs its own blood supply and does not get it from the blood that flows through its chambers. Instead, the heart is supplied with blood, giving oxygen and taking away carbon dioxide, by arteries and veins that sit on the outside of the heart.

But our Western diet and lifestyle have contributed to extremely high rates of disease inside these arteries, termed “atherosclerosis”. This causes the arteries to narrow and can lead to sudden blockages, which result in heart attacks.

AMIs usually occur when there is a sudden rupture of the atherosclerotic plaque, containing cholesterol, fatty cells and immune cells. This causes a large blood clot to form, blocking off the blood flow.

Image of the heart
The heart is supplied with blood, giving oxygen and taking away carbon dioxide, by arteries and veins that sit on the outside of the heart. from shutterstock.com

When the heart muscle tissue that is usually supplied by these arteries no longer receives blood and oxygen, it starts to die within minutes, causing intense pain. Within 90 minutes, that whole section of heart wall can die, meaning it will not beat. This reduces the overall performance of the heart and predisposes it to the aforementioned ventricular arrhythmias (the dangerous surge of electricity).

Fortunately, modern medicine has markedly improved survival from heart attacks. In 1960, one-third of people died within a month of having a heart attack. This improved to 16% 18 months after having one in Australia in 2012.

Even though the survival rate from heart attacks is quite high, the burden of disease is heavy. Heart attacks are responsible for 12% of all deaths in Australia, and one Australian dies from a “heart attack” every 27 minutes.

Heart failure

Heart failure is a structural issue, so it’s the carpenter’s problem. It results from the heart being unable to adequately supply the body with blood, so the tissues don’t receive oxygen and other nutrients, and blood pools in the legs, abdomen and lungs. Heart failure either results from weakness in the strength of the pump, or stiffening of the heart so it loses elasticity and can’t fill with blood in the first place.

It is the end result of a myriad of conditions, from genetic disorders, to heart attacks, to infections and high blood pressure. Heart failure is more chronic than the other two. People with heart failure see a gradual worsening of shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling and light-headedness, with a significant impact on quality of life.

Death from heart failure is often as a result of cardiac arrest, as disruption to the construction of the house causes electricity problems too; along with organ failure from lack of oxygen supply due to failure to pump the blood and also fluid in the lungs reducing oxygen transfer.

The good news is all three of these conditions can largely be prevented and treated with a healthy lifestyle, seeing your doctor and taking medications to reduce your risk of heart disease.


This article was written by:
Image of Anna BealeAnna Beale – [Medical doctor, PhD candidate in cardiology, Monash University]

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Whose best friend? How gender and stereotypes can shape our relationship with dogs

 One man and his dog. Pierre MalouAuthor provided

The relationship between people and their dogs can be a lasting and loving bond if the match is right. But when acquiring a dog, how do you know if that match will be a good one?

Research shows there is a difference in the way some dogs react to men and women, and it can also matter if the dog is a he or a she.

The challenge lies in understanding the interactions of dogs with humans. And part of that challenge can be influenced by gender stereotypes of both humans and dogs.

This shows why matching dogs to people is far more complicated than we might predict.

Picture of three dogs sitting together
Dogs extend their innate social skills to humans. Paul McGreevy, Author provided

Humans and dogs: a long history

Humans have been co-evolving with dogs for thousands of years. We owe them a lot, including (perhaps surprisingly) the ways in which we experience and express gender via animals.

This often happens in negative ways, such as when women are referred to as bitches, cows, pigs, birds, chicks and men as wolves, pigs, rats. None of these animal metaphors have much to do with the animals themselves but more to do with how we use categories of animals to categorise humans.

So unpacking and challenging gender stereotypes might just also improve the lives of animals too.

A 2006 landmark analysis of gender and dog ownership revealed that owners use their dogs as props to display their own gender identities.

Participants in this study considered female dogs to be less aggressive but more moody than apparently more playful male dogs. They used gender stereotypes not only to select dogs, but also to describe and predict their dog’s behaviour and personality.

Picture of a dog being taught to retrieve
Learning to fetch. Paul McGreevy, Author provided

The potential ramifications of this are important because such flawed predictions about dog behaviour can lead to a person giving up on their dog, which is then surrendered to a shelter.

Once surrendered, an aggressive bitch or uncooperative dog faces a grim future, with most dogs who fail a behavioural assessment being killed, adding to the troubling euthanasia rates in Australia.

That said, the predictive power of behaviour assessment in shelters is being questioned. Some say the ability of such assessments to reliably predict problematic behaviours in future adoptive homes is “vanishingly unlikely”. Moreover, the assessments are likely to be informed by the gendered expectations and behaviours of the humans who assess, surrender or adopt.

small study in the UK in 1999 observed 30 dogs in shelters when approached by unfamiliar men and women. It found that the female dogs spent less time looking towards all the humans than the male dogs did.

All the dogs barked at and looked towards the women less than the men, which the researchers suggest shows that gender of the potential adopter plays a role in determining what a good match might look like, as well as the likelihood of adoption.

Even the bond that dogs share with their primary care-giver may have gender differences. For example, in a 2008 Australian study (led by one of us, Paul), dog owners reported that male dogs showed elevated levels of separation-related distress compared to female dogs. They also reported that separation-related distress and food-related aggression increased with the number of human adult females in the household.

Desexing, which is more than justified by the animal welfare benefits of population control, also complicates cultural beliefs about appropriate dog gender and may even influence a dog’s problem-solving behaviour. A recent study published this year suggests that desexing may have a more negative effect on female than male dogs when it comes to aspects of cognition.

study (co-authored by one of us, Paul) published last month, that focused solely on working sheepdogs and their handlers (and so may have limited relevance to domestic companion dogs), is the first report of behavioural differences related to gender difference in both dogs and humans.

Gender stereotypes

These studies underline just how much the lives of dogs depend upon how they conform to gender expectations. In other words, it’s not just how we humans interact with dogs that matters, it’s how our genders interact as well.

While we know how damaging stereotypes can be for humans, dog owners may not consider just how their conceptual baggage of gender stereotypes affects the animals they live with.

Dog resting inside a house
Most dogs excel at fitting into our homes and lives. Paul McGreevy, Author provided

More research can help to shed light on the role that gender plays when it comes to making a good match between humans and their dogs; and by good match, we mean one that will result in a decrease in the likelihood of the dog being surrendered to a shelter or treated badly.

The take-home message from these studies is that, to be truly successful mutual companions, dogs don’t need just any human, they need a complimentary human who is open to reflecting critically on gender stereotypes.

Thanks partly to an uncritical adoption of gender stereotypes, the matching of dog and human is currently rudimentary at best. So we should not be surprised if dogs often fail to meet our expectations.

When relationships go wrong, it’s catastrophic for dogs, because it contributes to euthanasia rates in shelters. These deaths need to be better understood as a broader failure of human understanding about how their own beliefs and behaviour affect the dogs in their lives.


This article was co-authored by:

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

What economics has to say about same-sex marriage

Image of a same sex couple If people want commodities like:  
love, company, doing tasks together, they are better off if marriage 
is permitted. David Crosling/AAP

Love and companionship make most people happy and generally represent two of the key reasons why couples marry.

In the economists’ view, love and companionship are a particular type of commodity: they cannot be purchased or traded on a market, but they can be produced by a household to generate happiness for its members.

There are potentially many other of these “household-produced” commodities, including raising children, preparing meals, caring for each other, and achieving economic stability.

The question is then how to produce these commodities more efficiently so that people are happier.

Efficiency in this case does not just mean “more”, but also “better quality” commodities. For instance, the happiness of a person is not just determined by the number of meals prepared and consumed, but also by their quality.

Economists look at marriage in this context. Examining the commodities marriage can produce helps us understand why people marry, how individuals sort each other into married couples, and what this means for society as a whole.

It turns out that economics does a pretty good job at explaining and predicting patterns in marriage that would otherwise appear irrational. For example economics can help explain why there is a difference between married and non-married people when it comes to if, and eventually how much, they want to work.

We marry because…

The fundamental economic view of marriage goes back to the theory of Nobel Laureate Gary Becker.

People can produce household commodities in some amount without necessarily having to marry. However, when people marry, they pool their resources together (the most important one being time) and can specialise in certain tasks. This allows them to produce more and better quality household commodities.

For instance, by sharing tasks such as shopping and cleaning, a married couple can produce better quality meals than two individuals that shop, clean and cook separately.

In principle, the same productivity gains could arise from a co-habitation or de facto relationship. However, in this case, the two people in the relationship would also have to set up contracts to figure out important arrangements like household finance and inheritance (among other things).

There also is some significant costs, not only in money but in time, in working all of this out. Whereas a marriage contract already embeds some of these aspects. That in itself is an efficiency gain associated with marriage over cohabitation or de facto relationship.

So, if people want the commodities we mentioned: love, company, doing tasks together, they are better off (i.e. happier) if marriage is permitted.

This whole framework doesn’t require people to be of the same or different sex. Heterosexual and homosexual couples will generate different patterns in terms of what commodities they produce. Still, marriage will generate some productivity and efficiency gains for couples, irrespective of their gender.

What economics has to say about the effect on the rest of society

From an economic perspective, the fact that same-sex marriage allows people to achieve some productivity and efficiency gains (which some of us might call happiness!) does not automatically mean that it should be established by law. For example, if same-sex marriage were to produce some negative effects on the rest of the society.

In this regard, the public debate has focused on how permitting same-sex marriage would (or would not) reduce overall marriage in society, increase divorce rates, or lessen the importance of having children in marriage.

In fact, there’s now a growing body of empirical research, published across various fields (from economics, to demography, sociology, and public policy), that estimates the impact of permitting same-sex marriage on marriage, abortion, and divorce rates (or couple stability).

A study in 2009, using US data, found no statistically significant adverse effect from allowing gay marriage. Another US study in 2014 found no evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry reduces the opposite-sex marriage rate.

One more study indicated that same-sex couples experience levels of stability similar to heterosexual couples. That study also found that for couples (both same-sex and different-sex) living in a state with a ban against same-sex marriage there was an associated instability.

To some extent, findings from this line of research are still preliminary and have to be taken with caution. This is because same-sex marriage, even where permitted, has been introduced only recently. Therefore only a relatively short time span is available to observe its effects. So the jury is still out.

However, my own reading of the research produced so far is that there is generally little evidence of significant negative societal effects of same-sex marriage.

Going forward, as more data becomes available, empirical research will allow for a more refined assessment of the impact of same-sex marriage on society and the extent to which permitting same-sex marriage could (or not) weaken the social purpose of traditional marriage.


This article was written by:
Image of Fabrizio CarmignaniFabrizio Carmignani – [Professor, Griffith Business School, Griffith University]

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

When life is coming to a close: three common myths about dying

Three common myths about dying Dying at home isn’t 
necessarily a good death. 

On average 435 Australians die each day. Most will know they are at the end of their lives. Hopefully they had time to contemplate and achieve the “good death” we all seek. It’s possible to get a good death in Australia thanks to our excellent healthcare system – in 2015, our death-care was ranked second in the world.

We have an excellent but chaotic system. Knowing where to find help, what questions to ask, and deciding what you want to happen at the end of your life is important. But there are some myths about dying that perhaps unexpectedly harm the dying person and deserve scrutiny.

Myth 1: positive thinking can delay death

The first myth is that positive thinking cures or delays death. It doesn’t. The cultivation of specific emotions does not change the fact that death is a biological process, brought about by an accident, or disease processes that have reached a point of no return.

Fighting the good fight, remaining positive by not talking about end of life, or avoiding palliative care, have not been shown to extend life. Instead, positive thinking may silence those who wish to talk about their death in a realistic way, to express negative emotions, realise their time is limited and plan effectively for a good death or access palliative care early, which has actually been shown to extend life.

For those living closer to the prospect of death, being forced to manage their emotions is not just difficult but also unnecessary, and counterproductive to getting the help we know is important at the end of life.

Myth 2: dying at home means a good death

The second myth is dying at home always means a good death. While Australians prefer to die at home, most die in hospital. Managing a death at home requires substantial resources and coordination. Usually at least one resident carer is needed. This presents a problem. Currently 24% of Australians live alone and that’s predicted to grow to 27% by 2031. We also know many Australian families are geographically dispersed and cannot relocate to provide the intensive assistance required.

The role of the carer may be rewarding but it’s often hard work. We know timing of death is unpredictable, depending on the disease processes. Nurses, doctors and allied health professionals visit, problem solve and teach the carer to perform end-of-life care. They don’t move in, unless they’re hired in a private capacity; a possible but pricey alternative. Finally, specialist equipment is required. While this is usually possible, problems can arise if equipment is hired out for a specific time and the patient doesn’t die within that allotted time.

It’s not a failure to die in a hospital, and may be the best option for many Australians. While it would appear that large public or private hospitals may not be the best places to die, in many areas they provide excellent palliative care services. Appropriate end-of-life planning needs to take this into account.

Myth 3: pushing on with futile treatment can’t hurt

A window of opportunity exists to have a good death. Pushing on with treatment that has no benefit or is “futile” can be distressing for the patient, family and the doctors. Doctors are not obliged to offer futile treatment, but unfortunately patients or family may demand them because they don’t understand the impact.

There are cases where people have been resuscitated against better medical judgementbecause family members have become angry and insisted. The outcome is usually poor, with admission to the intensive care unit, and life support withdrawn at a later date. In these cases, we have merely intervened in the dying process, making it longer and more unpleasant than it needs to be. The window for a good death has passed. We are prolonging, not curing death and it can be unkind – not just for those sitting at the bedside.

The story of a good death is perhaps not as interesting as a terrible one. Yet there are many “good death” stories in Australia. There are likely to be many more if some of the myths that surround dying are better understood.


This article was written by:
Image of Sarah WinchSarah Winch – [Health Care Ethicist and Sociologist, The University of Queensland]

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Flu is a tragic illness. How can we get more people to vaccinate?

Flu Vaccination 
Most people don’t take flu seriously enough.

Flu (influenza) has traditionally been the underdog of vaccine-preventable diseases. People tend not to worry about the flu too much, and there are various myths about its prevention and the vaccine. It’s true most people experience flu as a mild disease, but many don’t recognise it can be more severe.

Each year flu is estimated to kill at least 3,000 Australians aged over 50 years alone. It took more children’s lives than any other vaccine preventable disease in Australia between 2005-2014, and is the most common vaccine preventable disease that sends Australian children to hospital.

The tragic death of eight-year-old Rosie Andersen from flu last week has followed the recent outbreaks in aged care facilities and subsequent deaths of residents in South AustraliaTasmania and Victoria. A 30-year-old father died earlier this month due to complications from the flu, and now Sarah Hawthorn, who was infected late in her pregnancy, remains in a coma, unaware her baby was safely delivered six weeks ago.

This year’s flu season has been a bad one. And it’s not over yet.

Australian studies have shown the flu vaccine can usually reduce the risk of flu in those who are vaccinated by 40-50%, and by 50-60% for childrenEarly indications are showing the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine may be lower.

Experts are calling for a better vaccine, which is needed. But even a more effective vaccine won’t address all the barriers to uptake.

Who’s most at-risk?

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for any person six months of age or older who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with flu. It’s free for certain groups at higher risk of the severe effects of the disease including:

• people over 65 (80% of whom are vaccinated)

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from six months to five years (12% of whomare vaccinated)

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 15 (34% of whom are vaccinated)

• pregnant women (45% of whom are vaccinated)

• people aged six months and over with medical conditions such as severe asthma, lung or heart disease, low immunity or diabetes (58% of these adults are vaccinated, and 27% of these children).

Why don’t they vaccinate?

Researchers have looked at why many people in these groups don’t have their yearly flu vaccine. A common theme emerges – health professionals are not recommending it enough, people aren’t aware they need it, they’re not sufficiently motivated, or they don’t have easy access.

These themes come out in studies with parents of  young children,  pregnant women,  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander childrenadults with other disease, and people over 65.

Image of a syringe
The flu vaccine isn’t free for all kids. from www.shutterstock.com

Our research is now looking at the children who end up in hospital with severe flu. We’re trying to better understand the barriers to flu vaccination, along with vaccine efficacy issues.

We’ve heard that not only are health care workers not recommending it enough, some doctors are even recommending against it, as they don’t believe the child is at risk. This is even though over half of children hospitalised from the flu are those without medical risk factors. Other times it’s simple awareness – parents didn’t know their child can receive a flu vaccine if they’re over the age of six months.

Busy lives can mean making time to go to the clinic for a vaccine falls down the list of priorities. A four-year-old in our study was hospitalised only three days before a visit to the clinic had been booked.

Some of the children in our study were not theoretically at high risk of flu and so not in the group where the vaccine is free. This was a major barrier, as it has been in other studies in children and adults. Parents report to us that their child is up-to-date with their scheduled vaccines, but annual flu vaccination is not being ticked off as it’s not on the schedule.

The challenge with flu vaccine is it’s given yearly. In the UK it’s recommended and funded for all children of primary school age using a school-based delivery program and currently between 53-58% of children have it. When this many children are vaccinated there can be indirect protection of others who are not vaccinated because the virus is not able to spread from person to person as easily.

Misconceptions about the flu vaccine

Misconceptions about flu vaccine are also a barrier: that it causes flu, that it’s not effective, that it’s not needed. People might say they never get the flu, not realising symptoms can be mild or not noticed and they can pass it on to the vulnerable. Others reported their belief was that the flu was not a serious disease. Some believed contracting flu “naturally” was likely to provide greater immunity.

Some parents also have concerns about the safety of the flu vaccine. Australians were spooked by a 2010 incident when there was a temporary suspension of flu vaccine for children under five after reports of an increase in the rate of convulsions in children.

The one vaccine found to be the cause (BioCSL/Sequiris Fluvax™) is no longer approved for use in children younger than five, but there are other seasonal flu vaccines children can have. But public and professional confidence is yet to fully recover, despite having reassuring safety data.

Image of a flu virus
People may say they never get the flu so they don’t need the vaccine, but you can pass on the virus without knowing you have it. from www.shutterstock.com
Western Australia has had a free child vaccine program for years which was achieving relatively good coverage, but this dramatically declined after 2010, and coverage languishes at around 15% today. In other words, mud sticks.

How to improve uptake

To improve uptake we first need timely and accurate coverage figures. We now have the capacity to get coverage estimates from the expanded Australian Immunisation Register but these are not yet available.

The vaccine needs to be recommended more often, available more readily, free and recommended as part of the schedule, and myths addressed more effectively.

We need to motivate and support health care workers to implement the recommendations, such as with automated reminders, incentives and performance indicators. Systems need to ensure people can get the vaccine easily – from the GP or other health clinic, the specialist clinic, the antenatal care clinic, or from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health worker.

Promoting flu vaccine to everyone is important, as is providing ease of access, awareness and opportunity. Although the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s far better than no protection at all.


This article was co-authored by:
Image of Julie LeaskJulie Leask – [Associate Professor, University of Sydney]
and
Image of Samantha Carlson Samantha Carlson – [Research Officer for the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, University of Sydney]

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via