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Mind Over Milkshake: How Your Thoughts Fool Your Stomach

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 3:22am
Mind Over Milkshake: How Your Thoughts Fool Your Stomach April 14, 2014 3:22 AM ET Listen to the Story 8 min 24 sec   Bianca Giaever and Alix Spiegel/NPR/YouTube

It was late, almost 9 at night, when Justin Holden pulled the icy pizza box from the refrigerator at the Brookville Supermarket in Washington, D.C.

He stood in front of the open door, scanning the nutrition facts label.

A close relative had recently had a heart attack, and in the back of his mind there was this idea stalking him: If he put too much salt in his body, it would eventually kill him.

For this reason the information in the label wasn't exactly soothing: 1,110 milligrams of sodium seemed like a lot.

But there was even worse-sounding stuff at the bottom of the label.

Words like "diglyceride," with a string of letters that clearly had no business sitting next to each other. It suggested that something deeply unnatural was sitting inside the box.

"Obviously it's not good for me," the 20ish Holden said. "But, hopefully, I can let it slide in."

He tucked the pizza under his arm, and headed one aisle over for a sports drink.

A Label Is More Than A Label

Who among us has not had a moment like this? That intimate tete-a-tete with the nutrition label, searching out salt, sugar, fat, trying to discern: How will you affect me? Are you good? Or are you bad?

Here's the thing you probably haven't stopped to consider: how the label itself is affecting you.

"Labels are not just labels; they evoke a set of beliefs," says Alia Crum, a clinical psychologist who does research at the Columbia Business School in New York.

A couple of years ago, Crum found herself considering what seems like a pretty strange question. She wanted to know whether the information conveyed by a nutritional label could physically change what happens to you — "whether these labels get under the skin literally," she says, "and actually affect the body's physiological processing of the nutrients that are consumed."

“ Who among us has not had a moment like this? That intimate tete-a-tete with the nutrition label, searching out salt, sugar, fat, trying to discern: How will you affect me? Are you good? Or are you bad?

As a student, Crum had spent years studying the placebo effect — how a sugar pill can physically alter a body if the person taking the pill believes it will. She figured food labels might work the same way. So she came up with an experiment.

Crum created a huge batch of French vanilla milkshake, then divided it into two batches that were labeled in two very different ways.

Half the stuff was put into bottles labeled as a low-calorie drink called Sensishake — advertised as having zero percent fat, zero added sugar and only 140 calories.

The other half was put into bottles that were labeled as containing an incredibly rich treat called Indulgence. According to the label, Indulgence had all kinds of things that wouldn't benefit your upper thighs — including enough sugar and fat to account for 620 calories. In truth, the shakes had 300 calories each.

Both before and after the people in the study drank their shakes, nurses measured their levels of a hormone called ghrelin.

Ghrelin is a hormone secreted in the gut. People in the medical profession call it the hunger hormone. When ghrelin levels in the stomach rise, that signals the brain that it's time to seek out food.

"It also slows metabolism," Crum says, "just in case you might not find that food."

But after your ghrelin rises, and you have a big meal (say a cheeseburger and a side of fries), then your ghrelin levels drop. That signals the mind, Crum says, that "you've had enough here, and I'm going to start revving up the metabolism so we can burn the calories we've just ingested."

On the other hand, if you only have a small salad, your ghrelin levels don't drop that much, and metabolism doesn't get triggered in the same way.

For a long time scientists thought ghrelin levels fluctuated in response to nutrients that the ghrelin met in the stomach. So put in a big meal, ghrelin responds one way; put in a small snack and it responds another way.

But that's not what Crum found in her milkshake study.

If you believed you were drinking the indulgent shake, she says, your body responded as if you had consumed much more.

“ I don't think we've given enough credit to the role of our beliefs in determining our physiology, our reality.

"The ghrelin levels dropped about three times more when people were consuming the indulgent shake (or thought they were consuming the indulgent shake)," she says, compared to the people who drank the sensible shake (or thought that's what they were drinking).

Does that mean the facts don't matter, that it's what we think of the facts that matters?

"I don't think I would go that far yet," Crum says. More tests need to be done, she says, to figure out exactly how much influence comes from food and mindset.

But she does think the usual metabolic model — calories in and calories out — might need some rethinking, because it doesn't account in any way for our beliefs about our food.

"Our beliefs matter in virtually every domain, in everything we do," Crum says. "How much is a mystery, but I don't think we've given enough credit to the role of our beliefs in determining our physiology, our reality. We have this very simple metabolic science: calories in, calories out."

People don't want to think that our beliefs have influence, too, she says. "But they do!"

Meanwhile, Back At The Brookville Supermarket

As for Holden, after he retrieved his sports drink, he picked up a salad, then carried his items to the cashier and put them down on the conveyor belt.

The liquid of his sports drink almost glowed under the lights of the store as the cashier rang him up.

Holden told the man he didn't want a bag. He carried his pizza out into the night.

Within an hour, the pizza and drink would be in his stomach, mingling there with a set of beliefs that he got from the back of a box.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

My Journey From Homeless Drug Addict To Magna Cum Laude

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 5:09am
My Journey From Homeless Drug Addict To Magna Cum Laude April 13, 2014 5:09 AM ET i i Maria Fabrizio for NPR

I was fighting a rat for the remnants of a corn dog I'd salvaged from the trash. That's when I realized I'd crossed the final line I had drawn.

I had told myself, as long as I don't shoot up, I'm OK. As long as I'm not homeless, I'm OK. But now I was shooting up and homeless, and there was nowhere left to draw. I had reached the bottom line of my existence.

I was constantly searching for something outside to fix how I felt inside. My first memory of that need was when I was about 8. My parents had divorced, and I was living with my grandmother. We had a difficult relationship. I wasn't fitting in at school, and I was overweight. I went into her kitchen pantry and ate an entire container of icing. I put the lid back on and placed it exactly where I had found it. Before long, I began to make excuses so I could hide in the pantry.

When I went back to my father, we moved around. I never stayed in the same school for more than a year. I was always the new and awkward tall kid, and I learned to downplay my intelligence in order to fit in.

Drugs and alcohol helped me feel at peace with myself, and opened the door to being liked by other kids. I tried anything I could get my hands on: pot, alcohol, crack, hallucinogens, pills, belladonna seeds and household products that I could huff. Only new and stronger chemicals masked how I truly felt about myself: unwanted, unworthy, useless and ugly.

Eventually, substance abuse became the common denominator among the people I allowed in my life. If you did not use, then I didn't have time for you.

My judgment began to deteriorate. I found myself in places I didn't want to be and doing things I didn't want to do. I would get in cars with strangers and drive to another state just on the promise of getting high. It is only by the grace of God that I think I was able to survive.

When I was 17, I had a daughter, but even the unconditional love of a child couldn't coax me away from the demon of addiction. When she was 3, she went to live with her father.

I sold just enough drugs to cover the cost of what I was using. I was now living with others in a riverbed under a freeway overpass. The drainage would bring large deposits of aluminum cans, which we would exchange for money. I was now an IV meth user and couldn't fathom how my life could get any worse. I didn't have the courage to kill myself, but I also couldn't muster the will to stop using.

My 34th birthday was the worst day of my life. I remember begging whomever would listen to either kill me or save me, but don't leave me here in hell.

I remember the next day like it was yesterday. I felt like a cockroach crawling out from under the bridge that morning. When my eyes adjusted to the sun, I saw the police officers. I had already had many run-ins with the law, and for a moment I weighed whether I could outrun the police this time. But my body was just too tired.

I knew I was again going to prison. But strangely, this didn't bother me. I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders. Somehow deep in my heart I knew that I was ready to never live this way again.

I did my time and, with the help of my family, I was paroled into a residential treatment center. The day I walked in was truly the first day of the rest of my life. My mind was ready to embrace the idea of a second chance.

At a 12-step meeting at the center one night, I heard a woman talk about an insatiable hunger she felt in the pit of her stomach — a hunger that could never be filled by any food, only drugs. She called this hole a "spiritual void." At that instant, I felt like a piece of my puzzle had finally snapped into place. I wasn't alone. There were others who felt the void, and who were waking up every day to fight to stay clean.

While in treatment, I went back to school. I was 35. Within two years, I graduated from community college. I took out student loans and transferred to a university, where I graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in business administration. I went after my recovery like I did my drugs and found I was able to accomplish anything I truly wanted.

Today I work with women who serve their prison sentences in residential treatment along with their children. My path to recovery led me to a job where my experience could help others, and that is why I feel my life hasn't been wasted. I hope I can continue counseling those who share my story. I hope I can continue to build my fragile relationship with my daughter. And sometimes, I just hope.

Hill lives in Southern California, where she works with recovering addicts and fosters dogs from an Akita rescue.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

My Journey From Homeless Drug Addict To Magna Cum Laude

Sun, 04/13/2014 - 5:09am
My Journey From Homeless Drug Addict To Magna Cum Laude April 13, 2014 5:09 AM ET i i Maria Fabrizio for NPR

I was fighting a rat for the remnants of a corn dog I'd salvaged from the trash. That's when I realized I'd crossed the final line I had drawn.

I had told myself, as long as I don't shoot up, I'm OK. As long as I'm not homeless, I'm OK. But now I was shooting up and homeless, and there was nowhere left to draw. I had reached the bottom line of my existence.

I was constantly searching for something outside to fix how I felt inside. My first memory of that need was when I was about 8. My parents had divorced, and I was living with my grandmother. We had a difficult relationship. I wasn't fitting in at school, and I was overweight. I went into her kitchen pantry and ate an entire container of icing. I put the lid back on and placed it exactly where I had found it. Before long, I began to make excuses so I could hide in the pantry.

When I went back to my father, we moved around. I never stayed in the same school for more than a year. I was always the new and awkward tall kid, and I learned to downplay my intelligence in order to fit in.

Drugs and alcohol helped me feel at peace with myself, and opened the door to being liked by other kids. I tried anything I could get my hands on: pot, alcohol, crack, hallucinogens, pills, belladonna seeds and household products that I could huff. Only new and stronger chemicals masked how I truly felt about myself: unwanted, unworthy, useless and ugly.

Eventually, substance abuse became the common denominator among the people I allowed in my life. If you did not use, then I didn't have time for you.

My judgment began to deteriorate. I found myself in places I didn't want to be and doing things I didn't want to do. I would get in cars with strangers and drive to another state just on the promise of getting high. It is only by the grace of God that I think I was able to survive.

When I was 17, I had a daughter, but even the unconditional love of a child couldn't coax me away from the demon of addiction. When she was 3, she went to live with her father.

I sold just enough drugs to cover the cost of what I was using. I was now living with others in a riverbed under a freeway overpass. The drainage would bring large deposits of aluminum cans, which we would exchange for money. I was now an IV meth user and couldn't fathom how my life could get any worse. I didn't have the courage to kill myself, but I also couldn't muster the will to stop using.

My 34th birthday was the worst day of my life. I remember begging whomever would listen to either kill me or save me, but don't leave me here in hell.

I remember the next day like it was yesterday. I felt like a cockroach crawling out from under the bridge that morning. When my eyes adjusted to the sun, I saw the police officers. I had already had many run-ins with the law, and for a moment I weighed whether I could outrun the police this time. But my body was just too tired.

I knew I was again going to prison. But strangely, this didn't bother me. I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders. Somehow deep in my heart I knew that I was ready to never live this way again.

I did my time and, with the help of my family, I was paroled into a residential treatment center. The day I walked in was truly the first day of the rest of my life. My mind was ready to embrace the idea of a second chance.

At a 12-step meeting at the center one night, I heard a woman talk about an insatiable hunger she felt in the pit of her stomach — a hunger that could never be filled by any food, only drugs. She called this hole a "spiritual void." At that instant, I felt like a piece of my puzzle had finally snapped into place. I wasn't alone. There were others who felt the void, and who were waking up every day to fight to stay clean.

While in treatment, I went back to school. I was 35. Within two years, I graduated from community college. I took out student loans and transferred to a university, where I graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in business administration. I went after my recovery like I did my drugs and found I was able to accomplish anything I truly wanted.

Today I work with women who serve their prison sentences in residential treatment along with their children. My path to recovery led me to a job where my experience could help others, and that is why I feel my life hasn't been wasted. I hope I can continue counseling those who share my story. I hope I can continue to build my fragile relationship with my daughter. And sometimes, I just hope.

Hill lives in Southern California, where she works with recovering addicts and fosters dogs from an Akita rescue.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

Ebola Drug Could Be Ready For Human Testing Next Year

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 4:00pm
Ebola Drug Could Be Ready For Human Testing Next Year April 11, 2014 4:00 PM ET Listen to the Story 4 min 22 sec  

In this colored transmission electron micrograph, an infected cell (reddish brown) releases a single Ebola virus (the blue hook). As it exits, the virus takes along part of the host cell's membrane (pink, center), too. That deters the host's immune defenses from recognizing the virus as foreign.

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine/Science Source Additional Information: To Tame A Killer

Scientists hunting treatments for Ebola and related diseases are trying several approaches. So far, the following have only been tested against the virus in animals:

Small Molecules: These are drugs that can be put into a pill. BCX4430 is from a class of drugs called nucleoside analogues. These molecules may look a lot like the building blocks of the virus' own genetic material (RNA instead of DNA), but the drugs end up preventing the virus from reproducing.

Estrogen Blockers: A few of these FDA-approved medicines, including the fertility drug Clomid, turn out to protect rodents against Ebola in the laboratory, but nobody knows why. It's apparently not related to the drugs' effects on estrogen in the human body.

Small Interfering RNA (siRNA): These snippets of RNA are custom-tailored to bind to a virus' RNA while it is reproducing, and this kills the virus.

Therapeutic Vaccines: Scientists have produced vaccines against Ebola by engineering a different virus, such as vesicular stomatitis virus, to include harmless bits of the Ebola virus. Vaccines are generally designed to protect against infection, but this vaccine may also be useful after a person has been exposed to Ebola to prevent illness.

Engineered Antibodies: Immune system proteins called antibodies attach to foreign substances such as viruses and help a person fight off an infection. Scientists have tailored a particular sort, called monoclonal antibodies, to attack Ebola viruses and related species. Monkeys given the antibodies soon after exposure to what would normally be a lethal dose of Ebola survived.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is terrifying because there's no drug to treat this often fatal disease. But the disease is so rare, there's no incentive for big pharmaceutical companies to develop a treatment.

Even so, some small companies, given government incentives, are stepping into that breach. The result: More than half a dozen ideas are being pursued actively.

And these are boon days for drugs that can treat viruses. Think of treatments for AIDS and hepatitis C.

Potential treatments for Ebola pursue many strategies. These include conventional drugs, custom-built antibodies, and vaccines that are designed not simply to prevent the spread of a disease, but to treat it in people who are in the early stages of infection.

Each idea has shown some promise in animals. But nothing has yet passed critical human testing, so there's nothing ready to be tried during the current outbreak.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is hopeful about this multipronged approach, but says, "I think it's really too early to make a prediction about what is the more or less promising one among them."

One challenge is that there are several different species and strains of Ebola-like viruses, so there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution.

But one experimental drug could conceivably fit that bill. It's called BCX4430. Travis Warren at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases lab in Frederick, Md., has been working on this antiviral drug.

"It worked great against both Ebola virus and [the closely related] Marburg virus" when tested in mice, he says. It also protected guinea pigs from these viruses and yellow fever.

So the next set of tests was in a small number of monkeys who had been infected with Marburg virus.

"When we started the drug either 24 hours or 48 hours after the infection, 100 percent of those animals survived," Warren says.

It's notable that this drug is being developed by a small company, called BioCryst Pharmaceuticals.

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"It just wouldn't make the cut at a major company," says Dr. William Sheridan, BioCryst's medical director, who once worked at the drug giant Amgen.

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Ebola, scary as it is, has only made about 2,500 people sick since it was discovered in 1976, killing about 1,700 of them. So the market for a drug like this is tiny.

Still, Sheridan says his company has good reason to pursue it, beyond his desire to address an important public health issue.

"There is a market, and the market is the U.S. government," he says.

The government has promised to buy a stockpile of drugs that are effective against Ebola, in case someone should try to use it as a biological agent on the battlefield, or in an act of terrorism. Federal agencies also are helping to pay for the research, so the company is pushing forward as quickly as it can.

"We're currently [manufacturing the] drug and will be conducting typical animal safety experiments that you typically do before you put drugs in humans," Sheridan says. "And once that's successfully completed, I anticipate by the middle of next year that we should have completed phase one studies in people."

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Phase one tests will tell them whether the drug is relatively safe, but it won't tell them whether it would actually be an effective treatment. Assuming the drug seems safe, it would be ready for testing in a future outbreak of Ebola.

Of course, most potential drugs don't live up to their early promise, and there's no assurance this one will, either.

But Travis Warren at the Army lab says that given all the advances in developing drugs to treat viruses, something will emerge out of this broad quest for an Ebola drug.

"I'm absolutely certain it will happen," Warren says. "It's just a matter of time."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

How A Person Can Recover From Ebola

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 1:52pm
How A Person Can Recover From Ebola April 11, 2014 1:52 PM ET

Testing for Ebola, a scientist in a mobile lab at Gueckedou, Guinea, separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate the virus's genetic sequence.

Misha Hussain/Reuters /Landov

At least eight Ebola patients in Guinea have beaten the odds. They have recovered and been sent home. In past outbreaks, the death rate has been as high as 90 percent. In Guinea so far, about 60 percent of the 157 suspected cases have ended in death.

The first seven to 10 days after infection is the "peak of the illness," when people are most likely to die, says Barbara Knust, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. But if the body begins to produce antibodies to fight off the infection, then there's hope.

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Doctors on the scene think the treatment regimen may play a role in boosting survival odds.

"It's hard to say conclusively that what we are able to give treatmentwise is causing that increased survival rate," says Tom Fletcher, an infectious diseases physician who is with the World Health Organization team in Guinea. "But we think interventions such as intravenous fluids, IV antibiotics and paying attention to symptom control and nutrition are probably all important." Such care has not always been available to patients during past Ebola episodes.

Adds critical care doctor Rob Fowler, also with WHO: "Outbreaks happen in places where it's very challenging to deliver medical care. Even when there's no specific therapy for the virus, with supportive care, people can have much better outcomes."

The first encouraging sign is when the symptoms fade — fever, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, fatigue and muscle aches. If a patient is symptom-free for several days, doctors run repeat blood tests to see if any virus remains in the bloodstream. "We're fortunate to have an Institut Pasteur lab here that gives us a result within four hours," Fletcher says.

But there are twists to this scenario, says Marie-Christine Férir, Brussels-based emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders. A man's blood may be free of Ebola, but the virus can persist in semen for two to three months after recovery. (That's because antibodies produced in the bloodstream don't reach the testicles.) Since Ebola can be transmitted through sexual contact, male survivors are sent home with condoms and instructed to use them for the next three months if they engage in intercourse.

The virus can also linger in breast milk, so mothers are told to wean any child who had been breast-feeding.

The Sources And Symptoms Of A Disease With A Global Reputation March 25, 2014

A clear blood test doesn't always mean a survivor is ready to be discharged. "The virus can really weaken a person, [and] they can lose a lot of weight," Knust says. "Sometimes they need extra support to get healthy enough so they aren't at risk of a secondary infection."

A Guinean physician, who was infected with Ebola but recovered, said he regained his strength by eating PlumpyNut — and got a psychological boost from the encouragement and guidance of his caregivers.

Ebola survivors do not have to worry about contracting the disease again, says Pierre Rollin, deputy director of the viral special pathogens branch of CDC, who has traveled to the site of previous Ebola epidemics over the past 20 years. "When they start to test negative, they're going to remain negative for the rest of their lives."

Mental health is another matter. Health care workers often check on patients in their homes to see how they are faring after the trauma of suffering through Ebola — and perhaps losing family members to the disease as well. They must also deal with the stigma associated with having had the virus.

Health workers teach the community that the Ebola survivor cannot infect them.

"They will do a lot of things, especially holding hands with [the patients], to publicly demonstrate that they're not afraid of these people," says Knust.

Adds Férir: "[In the past] we would bring the patient into the middle of the village, and we would give a big kiss to the patient to show that it's OK, no problem."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

This Jet Lag App Does The Math So You'll Feel Better Faster

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 10:35am
This Jet Lag App Does The Math So You'll Feel Better Faster April 11, 201410:35 AM ET i i

You've been there, and you know it doesn't feel good. But an app based on the science of circadian rhythms could help reduce the suffering of jet lag.

iStockphoto

Jet lag is nobody's idea of fun. A bunch of mathematicians say they can make the adjustment less painful with a smartphone app that calculates the swiftest way to adjust.

Users plug in the time zone they're traveling to, and the app will do the calculations before spitting out a schedule specifying when the user should stay in bright light, low light or be in the dark, says Olivia Walch, a graduate student at the University of Michigan who designed the app.

"The conventional wisdom is for every hour you're shifting, it's about a day of adjustment," Walch says. So Washington, D.C., travelers going to Hong Kong — a 12-hour time difference — could take up to 12 days to adjust. The app can reduce that time to roughly four or five days, the inventors say.

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There are other jet lag apps out there, but few actually have science to back them up. The Entrain app is based on the premise that the body's circadian clock relies heavily on light to know what time of day it is.

"In your brain you have a central circadian clock ... [that] sends signals all throughout the body," says Danny Forger, a professor of mathematics and computational medicine at Michigan and the mastermind behind the app. And that central clock controls all of the body's biological functions.

The free app, which is named after that process of entrainment, recommends a schedule of light exposure to sync the body to a different time zone in the quickest way possible.

The app also can be customized based on the amount of light a person is actually getting. It then recalculates the schedule for the days ahead.

Unlike with many of the apps out there, Forger and his colleagues have more than 80 pages of complex science and calculus in a study, published Thursday in PLoS Computational Biology, to support their product.

Using two mathematical equations that predict how light affects the human circadian clock, Forger and his colleagues simulated the optimal schedules for more than 1,000 possible trips. They then applied two basic principles. One is to be exposed to one big block of light and one big block of dark in your day, Walch says. Another is to be exposed to the brightest possible light.

The Two-Way Jet-Lagged: NASA Engineer And His Family Are Living On Mars Time

The equations themselves aren't new; they have been used by NASA, the transportation industry and the military, according to Forger. But he says he's finally putting that technology in the palm of the average person's hand.

Think about flying from the East Coast of the U.S. to Japan, says Dr. Elizabeth Klerman, a sleep medicine and disorder researcher at Harvard Medical School. You can fly through each time zone one by one and have your circadian clock slowly adjust, or you can do what airplanes do.

"They basically fly up to the North Pole and skip across multiple time zones and then go back down again rather than having to cross each intermediate time zone," Klerman, who wasn't involved in the study, says. "Well, the equations that Forger used are able help you skip across time zones."

The Entrain app hasn't yet been flight tested, but Klerman thinks it should work.

"Theoretically, there would be ways to speed up re-entrainment, but you need to do experiments to make sure whether it works, because humans don't always respond the way mathematical models expect them to," she tells Shots. "But he has based his model on decades of thorough experiment, and a model that has been tested very thoroughly.

YouTube

"So I would like to think that he's right," she says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs

The Ebola Survivors: Reborn But Not Always Embraced

Fri, 04/11/2014 - 3:51am
The Ebola Survivors: Reborn But Not Always Embraced April 11, 2014 3:51 AM ET Listen to the Story 4 min 28 sec  

Rose Komano, 18 and the mother of three, was the first Ebola patient to overcome the virus in southeastern Guinea, the epicenter of the outbreak. On April 3, she posed at a health clinic in the Gueckedou region.

Misha Hussain /Reuters /Landov

They call them the "Lazarus" cases, after the Biblical character who died but was revived by Jesus. They are survivors of the latest outbreak of Ebola.

Ebola often grabs global headlines as the killer virus that can result in a death rate of up to 90 percent. But in Guinea, the death rate in the current outbreak has been about 60 percent. So there are survivors — to the delight of the overworked doctors, health workers and, of course, the patients who have recovered.

"I feel reborn," says a vivacious young woman who chose not to give her name because of the stigma associated with the virus. She had tested positive for Ebola and was admitted to the isolation unit in the treatment center run by Doctors Without Borders, a cluster of tents located on the grounds of the main public hospital in Conakry, the capital city.

Her face wreathed in a smile, she tells how she went in with a raging fever and other telltale Ebola symptoms: "When I was admitted everyone was saying there's no cure, there's no vaccine, and I was frightened. That alone could kill you."

A week later, she was discharged. "I'm out — I've totally recovered, and I thank God and the doctors for helping me," she says.

Shots - Health News The Ebola Outbreak 3 Weeks In: Dire But Not Hopeless

She is one of a handful of patients cleared to go home.

The first person to recover from Ebola and be discharged from the hospital in Conakry is a 30-year-old doctor, who also wants to remain anonymous. He was diagnosed after he began feeling unwell and went for a blood test and checkup.

Other medical professionals call this slight and reserved man a hero, for helping other Ebola patients in isolation. The recovery of the physician and others has given extra motivation to the medical staff, says Henry Gray, emergency coordinator in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders.

"Seeing some of our patients actually survive and walk out under their own steam, it's brilliant," says Gray. "For the patients themselves, they sometimes feel as though they're fighting against all odds, and when they do come through it, there's joy in what is often a sad and difficult place to work."

But with survival can come stigma, he warns.

"The community must understand that the survivor does not pose a threat," he says. The education falls to the medical team assembled by Doctors Without Borders, which includes local medics and others from the World Health Organization, the local Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross. They all are in close contact with the Ministry of Health as well as political, religious and traditional leaders. "But that is a work in progress," Gray admits. "In Guinea, Ebola is an unknown disease; they're not used to it."

The community may think a person is still contagious, says the anonymous doctor who has recovered from the disease. With that fear may come rejection, marginalization and isolation.

He was pained to see how close friends shunned his wife and wouldn't eat the food she cooked — or buy the ginger juice she sells. But her physician husband says he understands people's misgivings.

Like the majority of Guineans, he and his wife are Muslims. "My wife is very religious," says the doctor, and Islam is a religion of forgiveness in his household. "She has forgiven them," he notes of the nervous acquaintances and neighbors. And now, day by day, the friends are coming back to their house to visit.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Categories: NPR Blogs