Heat Waves and Heat-Related Illnesses: When the Heat Rises, So Do the Risk

Heat Waves and Heat-Related Illnesses: When the Heat Rises, So Do the Risk

Summertime, for many in the US, is the best part of the year. Weeklong trips to the beach. Weekends spent lounging and grilling by the pool. And in the middle of it all, on July 4, one of the most festive holidays on the calendar.

Summer also brings with it heat. In some portions of the country, it can be oppressive.

Of course, mercury busting temperatures are nothing new during the months between June and August (considered meteorological summer). The hot US summers of 1936, 1980, and 1983 were record-breaking. Short, but incredibly deadly heat waves occurred in Los Angeles in 1955 (946 deaths) and New York in 1972 (891 deaths).

However, if it seems that in more recent years temperatures have been uncomfortably warm, you’re not mistaken. Of the ten hottest years in the US, the top four have all come within the past decade.

Let’s sweat it out a bit and look closer at heat – more specifically, heat waves – and what they can do to the human body and how to protect yourself when the temperature starts rising.

What is a Heat Wave?

shutterstock 318707333

We all know summertime is hot. The seasonality of our climate dictates that temperatures push upward June through August across the US. It’s not uncommon for many parts of the south and southwest to experience triple-digit readings during this time.

A heat wave happens when high pressure creates a dome of air over a specific region. This dome traps air at ground level and prevents it from rising. Without this rising air, rain can’t develop, and there’s no mechanism to prevent the hot air from growing even hotter.

Until the dome of high-pressure moves or is displaced by another weather system, the blistering hot air remains in place.

As an example, let’s examine summers in Dallas, Texas.

Collectively, since the year 1994, Dallas’ average June through August temperature is 85°F. From the chart, you can see that in some months the average temperature topped out a few degrees higher, between 87°F and 89°F. This reflects daytime highs in the city that reached between 90°F and 99°F.

Hot, yes, but not uncommon, even if for an extended period.

In a heat wave, the temperature rises to a point well above the norm, doing so over a period of time. Prolonged bouts of heat can last several days, weeks, or, in the most extreme cases, months.

Again looking at the linked chart, you can spot several of the most notable Dallas heat waves in months where the average temperature exceeded 90 degrees.

In 2011 alone, Dallas saw two streaks of consecutive days over 100°F at 40 and 20 days, respectively, which was part of a two-plus month long heat wave that ultimately saw 70 days scorch past the century mark. Other heat waves in Dallas during our 25-year sample occurred in 1998, 1999, 2006, 2010, as well as another one just last year.

While a heat wave in a warm climate may not be an extraordinary weather occurrence, its anticipated that heat waves in general – and their severity – are expected to become more frequent as temperatures rise globally. This includes areas not typically associated with the sweltering heat of summer.

For instance, in August of 2003, nearly 70,000 people succumbed to stifling heat in Europe. In 2018, a heat wave across Japan was so severe, their government declared the soaring temperatures a natural disaster, with a spokesman proclaiming the weather “unprecedented” and “a threat to life.”

In the US, heat proves deadliest among weather-related fatalities. In 2018, heat was responsible for more deaths than floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined.

Intensification of a Heat Wave

There are several conditions which can intensify a heat wave. Should a dome of heat form in a climate unaccustomed to oppressively hot weather – where air conditioning proves the exception, not the rule – residents can endure oven-like temperatures within their homes during the daytime.

A city, by way of endless asphalt, concrete, and glass, may amp up the effects of a heat wave through a phenomenon known as “urban heat island.” The city retains the heat for more extended periods, which means nighttime temperatures remain high versus cooling off.

According to Jonathan Erdman, a Weather.com meteorologist, it’s a deadly combination:

“Overnight temperatures which don’t drop below 80 degrees are dangerous because those without air conditioning can’t simply open their windows for relief at night. So, essentially, there’s no break in the heat at night.”

In other words, you don’t even have to be outside to endure the brunt of a heat wave and potentially fall victim to its harmful consequences.

Effects of Heat on the Human Body

shutterstock 666649831

There’s no question that heat can be uncomfortable. Excessive heat can be unbearable.

Aside from the constant pounding of sunlight or the searing air that accompanies an outbreak of high temperatures, prolonged heat exposure can be life-threatening. Between agonizing symptoms and loss of bodily function, if overexposure to heat is left untreated, it will lead to death.

Here are five of the most common heat-related conditions and illnesses:

Dehydration

Dehydration results from our bodies losing more water than what is being put in.

Although dehydration happens in many non-heat related situations, exposure to heat will speed up the processes that lead to the condition. Often this occurs without the person who is suffering from dehydration realizing it before it’s too late.

In weather such as a heat wave, our bodies will sweat more than usual to combat the increased temperatures. The rapid increase in water loss leads to symptoms both minor – headaches, muscle cramps, thirst and dry mouth – and far more severe – dizziness, nausea, confusion, rapid heartbeat or breathing, and fainting.

Everyone is susceptible to dehydration. However, infants and young children, older adults, people with illnesses or chronic disease, and even otherwise healthy individuals with active outdoor lifestyles are most at risk.

Heat Cramp

The first of four conditions caused by the overheating of the body or hyperthermia, heat cramps develop through an excessive loss of fluids, salt, and other minerals. These cramps may be incredibly painful, lasting longer than non-heat related cramping.

Muscles most often impacted by heat cramp include those in your abdomen, arms, and calves. Individuals who exercise heavily, particularly in outdoor environments, are most susceptible.

Heat Rash

When you sweat, it helps cool your body’s overall temperature. When this sweat becomes trapped beneath blocked pores in your skin, it leads to an outbreak of light, red blistering.

The least critical of the heat-related illnesses, heat rash is nonetheless an uncomfortable condition. Larger blisters may form, and intense itching may accompany the rash depending on its severity.

Although the vast majority of cases clear up within a couple of days, the worst instances involve painful swelling of the skin or lymph nodes, pus discharging from the blisters, or fever or chills.

Heat Exhaustion

When suffering from heat exhaustion, it’s typically the first indication that your body is rapidly starting to overheat. Symptoms include profuse sweating, a very rapid or feeble pulse, dizziness, nausea, severe cramping, and headaches, or increased fatigue. You may also have skin that is cool and moist to the touch even if you are in hot conditions.

Heat exhaustion can occur simply from being in the heat for too long. Its onset may happen sooner if you are performing strenuous activity while in the heat or heat combined with humid conditions (high heat index). Rapid temperature changes can also cause exhaustion, especially for those not accustomed to warmer areas.

As with other heat-related conditions, young children and older adults may experience exhausting faster than others, though obesity can also accelerate exhaustion symptoms due to the body retaining heat.

Heat Stroke

When your body reaches critical levels of overheating, you can fall victim to heat stroke. The most serious of the heat-based illnesses, individuals that encounter heat stroke require immediate medical attention.

When the body faces prolonged exposure to excessive heat, the body’s core temperature rises. Heat stroke happens with that core number reaches or exceeds 104°F. Coupled with fluid loss (dehydration), your body can no longer regulate its temperature.

Symptoms can appear immediately and include nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat and breathing, inability to sweat, severe headache or light-headedness, or confusion and disorientation. An individual may also suffer from seizures and unconsciousness.

If not treated immediately – which involves lowering the body’s core temperature – heat stroke can be fatal.

Final Thoughts: How to Stay Cool During a Heatwave

 

shutterstock 1136969870

The world is getting hotter.

Increased temperatures indicate an increase in heat waves and with them, heat-related illnesses. Protecting yourself, however, is a relatively simple combination of diligence and common sense – practically all of which you have seen or heard before:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, and consume more when active or outside in the heat of the day. If you’re in a place with no clean water source, a water bottle with a built-in filter can keep you hydrated in unsafe conditions.
  • Be mindful of what your body is losing when it sweats – minerals – and take care to replace them through sports drinks or your diet.
  • Don’t overexert yourself and take frequent breaks if outside in excessive heat or even when physically active in average, summertime temps.
  • Wear sunscreen when outside (no matter the temperature) and choose appropriate clothes for the conditions – lightweight and light-colored.
  • If you don’t have to be outdoors in the heat, stay inside, preferably places with air conditioning; if you do have to be out during the summer, schedule your activities during the coolest stretches whenever possible.

We can’t escape the heat – experts predict it to become a more significant burden in the coming decades. Knowing the risks of scorching temperatures – and the heat waves they produce – allows you to take preventative measures to “beat the heat” long before it beats you.

Poverty: What It Is and What We’re Doing To End It

Poverty: What It Is and What We’re Doing To End It

Poverty is an international concern. It affects every country in the world, even countries that are considered “developed” experience poverty.

Many people have plans to reduce or end poverty. There are a lot of good people working on a lot of good plans. Perhaps one single plan will not fix all the problems but combined it can enact real change.

What is Poverty?

Poverty is difficult to define.

Usually, poverty is defined as a family with an income that fails to meet a federally established threshold. This number can be different based on their country of origin.

If you use an international standard introduced by the World Bank, those who live in extreme poverty live on less than 1.9 international dollars a day.

Another way of defining poverty is by the terms of absolute poverty and relative poverty.

Absolute poverty defines poverty by the amount of money a person needs to meet their basic needs. This definition does not include issues of quality of life, or whether an individual is poor in relation to other people in the same society. Ideas of social or cultural disparities are not relevant to this definition. Rather, it focuses on whether a person has clean water, shelter, basic health care, clothing, and food.

Relative poverty looks at the way an individual or family income is compared to other members of the same society. In this definition, a person is poor when they make far less than the average income of their greater societal context.

Other people define poverty in terms that include things beyond just economic standards.

Looking at poverty this way includes a much broader explanation than simply the annual income of a family. While economics is definitely a part of it, some social scientists believe that definition lacks depth. These people seek to understand the reasons for poverty. They explore things like cultural influence, social structure, government involvement, and other things that are not in the control of the individual who is in poverty.

People who study poverty this way are often looking for solutions to help people overcome extremely difficult circumstances, and seek to change the systems that keep them locked in a cycle of poverty.

Poverty is Declining – Depending on Where You Look in the World

shutterstock 697637611

The poverty problem can be very bleak and disheartening. It can be overwhelming to even comprehend, and it can feel impossible to change.

The good news is while there are still 583,861,5500 (give or take) people currently living in extreme poverty in the world, those numbers are falling. In fact, it’s estimated that someone escapes extreme poverty every 1.2 seconds. According to the Economist, “Absolute poverty rates have dropped faster in the past thirty years than any other time on record.”

Bill Gates, a big advocate for ending world poverty, explained that extreme poverty has dropped from 36% of the world in 1990 to 9% in 2013. In fact, that number has actually dropped to 7.7% in 2019.

Big Changes in China and India

This impressive change in poverty can be traced back to two major countries: China and India. In the 1980s, the majority of Indian and Chinese citizens were living in extreme poverty.

Today 21% of India’s citizens and only 2% of China’s citizens are living in extreme poverty.

This is a major improvement.

Bill Gates explained that a big part of the change that happened in China and India is an investment in human capital.

In China, there has been increased productivity in farms and there was a mass migration from poor rural areas to cities that offered jobs and better wages.

The decline of poverty and the growth of industry in India has been slower, but it has followed a similar path to China. India has worked hard to create smarter more efficient systems to produce food and other commodities.

Another thing China did was focus more on education. In 1990, about 1 in 3 children were chronically malnourished both physically and mentally. The typical Chinese youth did not even attend high school.

Today, almost all graduate from high school and almost half attend college.

Bill Gates explains, “You just look at those cities in China and you see something miraculous came out of those human capital investments.”

Major Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa Expected to Grow

Today, the poorest area in the world exists in Sub-Saharan Africa. While poverty has also declined in this area from 54% in 1990 to 41% in 2013, the population has increased exponentially over the past few years.

Due to this, the number of extremely poor people has risen from 276 million to almost 400 million. This number is predicted to reach 2 billion by 2050. So while the percentage may have dropped, the actual number of people in extreme poverty has risen.

These African countries are urbanizing quickly, but unlike in China, the growth in population and migration to the city is not leading to decreased poverty. Instead of improving conditions, the population boom has put a strain on their limited resources. Many people live well below the $1.90 a day income margin.

Part of the reason the area is not seeing greater success is because they’re also experiencing violence, poor sanitation, clean water shortages, insufficient food supplies, and a lack of opportunity and stability. Many of their governments are not providing health care or education at a basic level.

Most people living in these harsh conditions spend their time attempting to find enough food to survive. This doesn’t leave much time or resources for innovation, productivity, or education. The majority of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially women, have very little to no formal education. Even informal education is limited due to time and energy constraints.

Bill Gates urges the world to invest in the people in these areas and to help overcome extreme poverty.

Next, let’s take a look at some organizations who are already successfully contributing.

What Are Some Organizations that are Dedicated to Putting an End to Poverty?

shutterstock 1093316291

Thankfully, many people and organizations around the world recognize the issue with extreme poverty. These issues don’t just affect one area in the world, they are present globally.

Not only that, but as humans on the same planet, we can’t turn away from massive areas of pain and suffering. There are solutions to these issues and ways to majorly improve circumstances.

Here are some organizations that have come up with innovative and essential solutions to these difficult problems.

Connect For Water

Connect for Water is a non-profit whose mission is to provide a clear path to clean, safe water to those in need. Their goal includes how to sustainably, responsibly distribute water filters in countries around the world, in ways that won’t hurt the local economies.

They recently began the Sponsor Water program, which encourages people to give $5 per month, and after one year of giving they will have impacted 5 people with clean, safe water for the next 5 years.

While it may not seem that providing clean water directly combats poverty, the truth is that the less time people spend looking to provide for their basic needs, the more time they can spend at school and at work. For every dollar invested in clean water, there is $8 return on investment in the local economy.

Connect for Water also provides assistance through their Angel Alliance Fund, which provides small, strategically targeted micro-loans to emerging businesses in the global south. The money they loan out goes toward providing entrepeneurs with the initial stock from which they can sell, profit, and grow their business from the ground up.

Partners Worldwide

Partners Worldwide is a Christian global network that helps people thrive by teaching them to grow their own businesses. They offer loans, hands-on training, mentoring, and advocacy.

They believe that unlocking a person’s potential and teaching them how to run their own businesses is a key component in ending poverty.

They currently partner with over 70 partners in over 30 countries around the world. Through these partnerships, they serve thousands of people who strive to be entrepreneurs.

They also partner with volunteer Business Affiliates which are people that serve their own communities and others.

They explain their approach in this way, “Around the world, we partner with locally-led organizations to support business growth and job creation so that people may be equipped to lift themselves—and their families and communities—out of poverty for good.”

PovertyCure

PovertyCure is an initiative that aims to reduce and end poverty globally.

Like Partners Worldwide, they hope to help people locally and internationally achieve independence through entrepreneurship.

They emphasize the need to love and seek to offer relief to those suffering from poverty, but also to provide a way out of their poverty. They explain, “Charity and almsgiving play an indispensable role in our efforts to help the poor, and yet the goal for charitable organizations should be to help the poor move beyond dependency.”

A system of dependency is not sustainable. It is temporary and requires ongoing support without hope of a better tomorrow.

Their goal is to shift the responsibility of international organizations to individuals living in poverty.

They seek to make it easier for individuals to maintain businesses and network freely. They also want to make it possible for businesses and entrepreneurs to flourish in positive climates free from fear of theft or oppression.

Ultimately, they want to give people in poverty the ability and opportunity to better their circumstances through business, entrepreneurship, and development.

They write, “The economy is not a fixed pie or zero-sum game where people can only get richer if they take from someone else. History and economics teaches that economies can grow and one person’s wealth does not mean another’s impoverishment.”

Growing Home

shutterstock 1013059525

While Sub-Saharan Africa and other underdeveloped areas in the world experience extreme poverty, poverty is still present in countries like the United States.

Teva Sienicki is president and CEO of a non-profit called Growing Home. This organization hopes to improve areas and decrease poverty in the United States.

In a Tedx talk, Sienicki told a story of working at her own homeless shelter. One day, she saw a young woman carrying a baby and walking beside a toddler. At first, she did not recognize the young woman, but soon she found out that she did, in fact, know her.

The same young lady had been to Sienicki’s shelter when she was a girl. Now she was back with her own children, living in the same circumstances she had been living in as a child.

Teva Sienicki was devastated. She realized that while her shelter offered temporary relief, it was not ending cyclical intergenerational poverty.

She knew that she had to think differently. She had to instill changes in Growing Home that actually changed people’s circumstances.

They changed the model of their non-profit.

Rather than helping families here and there, they sought to transform the entire neighborhood. Growing Home started out by going door to door in a community and asking people what they thought of the community the lived in, and what help they needed there.

Sienicki explains, “…when you reach out to members of the community and you invite them to be a part of the process, it stops being about doing things for people and it starts being about doing things with people.”

Their plan sought to include people in the community as sources of change, not just changing things for them.

Their mission page explains, “Growing Home works to create community by supporting neighborhood leaders as they learn to leverage their collective power to improve conditions for themselves and their neighbors.  Growing Home combines high-quality direct service strategies with efforts to advance systems change as we work toward equality of opportunity for all.”

They go on to say, “We envision our community working together so that all children and their families have a place to call home, food on the table, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

The End of Poverty

shutterstock 420435505

The end of extreme or relative poverty may not come in a single lifetime, but there are a lot of things that can be done to help alleviate the pain and suffering related to poverty.

Though there are many different beliefs on the best way to eradicate poverty, many scholars, humanitarians, and organizations agree on one important idea.

The best way to help end poverty is to invest in people. By offering people opportunity, resources, education, and involvement in the process, there is a much higher chance of success.

Looking at countries like China and India, great victories against poverty may come faster than we could imagine.

Water 101: A Primer On The Primacy Of H20

Water 101: A Primer On The Primacy Of H20

If you’re reading this, water is probably easily available to you. You may even have a bottle of water sitting right next to you. Chances are, you’ve never had to worry about how you were going to get your water. It’s just always been there.

That’s not the case for everyone though, and water isn’t as easily available as you may think. Some countries have to ration their water. Some people consider clean drinking water a luxury. Fresh drinking water isn’t just a simple turn of a knob for many people on the planet.

In this article, we’ll explore our drinking water. We’ll talk about where it comes from, how much is left, and where can possibly get more. We’ll also learn why bottled water has become so popular.

Consider this to be a primer on the primacy of water. Class is in session.

Where Does Water Come From?

shutterstock 1215699445

This might seem like a silly question, but not all water is created equal. Out of all of the water on Earth, 97% of it is found in the oceans. None of that water is drinkable as is.

Out of the remaining 3% of water, a little over 68% of it is trapped in ice caps and glaciers. About 30% is groundwater, and the remaining 1% is surface water.

The water in the glaciers and ice caps has been trapped for centuries. Most of this water can be found at the north and south poles, and atop high altitude mountain ranges like the Himalayas.

Groundwater is simply fresh water trapped inside the Earth. Groundwater is also referred to as aquifers. It’s the water that’s trapped beneath the Earth’s surface. We use wells to expel groundwater for our use.

And the remaining surface water is found in the lakes, streams, and rivers around the globe. Except for the glaciers, all freshwater is replenished by precipitation. Most of the freshwater suitable for human use comes from precipitation.

How Do We Get Drinking Water?

shutterstock 564214408

Now that we know where water comes from, how do we turn it into drinking water? If you’ve ever watched any type of survival show or read a book about survival, you know we can’t scoop water out of a lake and drink to our heart’s content. So, where does it come from?

Our drinking water begins as either groundwater or surface water, before starting its journey to end up in our cups and water bottles. The water gets pumped from its original source into pipes or tanks, and those pipes eventually lead to our homes, schools, businesses or any other place where you find tap water.

If you live in a large city, you most likely receive your tap water from a public water supply. If that’s the case, a local government agency or private companies will deliver the water to your home. It travels through a network of underground pipes originating in a large source of freshwater and ends up in the public water supply that you share with your neighbors. You receive a bill every month that is based on the amount of water you use.

Outside of the big cities in rural parts of e U.S. where there is no public water supply, people rely on their private water supplies instead. These private water supplies account for 15% of the American population.

If you’re one of the 15%, water gets to your home through pipes that come from a water source found on your property. That source is more than likely a well that is dug underground close by to your house. You aren’t charged for the water, but you are charged to maintain the well and power the equipment.


The Current State Of The World’s Fresh Water Sources

shutterstock 390671926

There could be major issues on the horizon as freshwater systems decline in quantity and quality due to heavy extraction and a rising rate of contaminants. These issues will affect our entire ecosystem. Freshwater species are already declining at an accelerated rate and contaminated water is causing contaminants to infiltrate our food chain.

Freshwater depletion

Only 1% of our fresh water is replenished, unevenly, by rainfall across the globe. Because of the increasingly high demand for fresh water, humans are extracting heavily from freshwater ecosystems and aquifers around the world. According to the Nature Conservancy, “water depletion is leading to the degradation of entire ecosystems that provide critically important services to our societies and economies.”

Today, water scarcity affects the lives of over half of the world’s entire population. That’s billions of people who have to wonder where their water is going to come from. More than 200 rivers that supply 2.67 billion people are already experiencing severe water scarcity for at least one month out of the year. We are pushing our freshwater sources to their absolute limit.

One of the major reasons for this depletion is the agricultural industry. Low water levels have occurred mainly due to the extraction of water for agricultural purposes and have resulted in catastrophic declines in freshwater species because they have lost their habitats. Populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish species have decreased by up to 76% in the last 40 years.

Desalination

As we come to a head with our growing freshwater crisis, experts have started looking to alternatives to alleviate the pressure on our freshwater sources. One of those alternatives is desalination. Desalination used to be too expensive and too hard on the environment to be a legitimate way to add to the freshwater sources, but with advances in technologies, both the energy requirements and the impact on the environment have decreased.

Simply put, desalination is the act of removing salt and other minerals from ocean water to make it suitable for consumption by livestock or humans. Desalination is a great option for communities where freshwater is scarce but there is a large supply of seawater.

There are still controversies surrounding the need for desalination. Critics wonder if the impact desalination has on the environment is worth it for people who have freshwater sources already available to them. But, as our supply of freshwater diminishes, desalination is quickly becoming the only option for many people around the world.

Desalination In The USA

shutterstock 139337444

The US has already made desalination a priority when they opened their massive plant off of the coast of San Diego. The plant, known as The Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant, produces 50 million gallons of drinkable water every single day.

The plant is a $1 billion public-private venture between Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority, that took nearly 20 years of planning, development, and construction.

Every day, about 100 million gallons of water from the nearby Agua Hedionda Lagoon enter the plant through a seawater pipe and begin pretreatment. The pretreatment consists of the sea water cycling through a multi-layer tank that uses anthracite, sand, and gravel to remove algae and other large contaminants. The water then moves through a second pretreatment that removes the smaller particles.

The plant relies on cutting-edge reverse osmosis technology that removes dissolved salt from seawater. There are more than 2,000 pressure vessels in the facility that contain semi-permeable membranes through which seawater must pass through.

It’s All About The Money

If they’re doing it in California as well as other places around the world, why aren’t there more desalination plants? Worldwide about 300 million people get water from more than 17,000 desalination plants in 150 countries. So can’t we just install enough plants so that the entire world has enough clean water to drink? That answer, at best, is not yet and it’s because of the cost.

A thousand gallons of freshwater from a desalination plant costs the average US consumer $2.50 to $5, compared to $2 for conventional freshwater. Desalination also uses a lot of energy. Desalination plants consume more than 200 million kilowatt-hours each day, with energy costs an estimated 55% of the plants total operational and maintenance costs.

Most reverse osmosis plants need three to ten kilowatt-hours of energy to produce one cubic meter of freshwater. Traditional water plants typically use well under 1-kilowatt hour per cubic meter.

It’s Not That Simple

So next time you turn on your faucet in your kitchen, bathroom, or yard, remember that your water isn’t coming from an infinite source somewhere on Earth. Before that water makes it to your house, it takes a journey from a freshwater source to a public water system or private well, and finally to your home.

And don’t get comfortable, because those freshwater sources are being stretched. Due to human demand, mostly due to the agriculture industry, our freshwater sources are being pushed to the limit. In the process, we’re also killing off freshwater species.

One solution to the epidemic is water desalination. It’s an idea centuries old that involves taking water from the sea or the ocean, and turning it into drinking water. It’s being used in places all around the world, but that solution is not as easy as it may sound. It’s very expensive, and it uses up a lot of energy. The technology continues to improve however, making it an option to help ease the pressure from our freshwater sources.

So remember, next time you fill up your water bottle, it’s not that simple.

What Is Hepatitis and How Is It Contracted?

What Is Hepatitis and How Is It Contracted?

Fear and anxiety often follow a diagnosis of Hepatitis. It’s an infectious disease of the liver, which means it causes infection, often serious and sometimes fatal, in the livers of those who have it. But not all types of hepatitis are equally severe.

If you’re trying to steer clear of it, have possible symptoms, or even have received that diagnosis, make sure you’re fully informed about ways the disease is contracted, how it can be avoided, and which treatments are available for those who have hepatitis.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is a general term for disease of the liver that results in inflammation. Inflammation can cause scarring and in some cases will eventually lead to liver failure.

Hepatitis is usually caused by viruses, but liver problems can also be caused by physical injury, damage to the liver from a bacterial infection, certain medications or adverse drug interactions, autoimmune disease, heavy use of alcohol, and some toxins.

In one type of hepatitis (A) it’s not only infectious – it can be contagious too (passed directly from person to person.) But for other forms, exposure mainly occurs when participating in risky behavior (sharing drug needles, alcohol dependence, or unprotected sex) or when hygiene is poor.

Five types of viruses are associated with hepatitis liver disease. The fifth is the most recently uncovered; for years only four strains of hepatitis were referred to. This is why you’ll see 5 different names given to the disease – Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Of those, Hep A, B and C are the most common types.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis?

The Immunization Action Coalition, who work in conjunction with the World Health Organization, explains that viral hepatitis symptoms are similar no matter which type of hepatitis you have.

“If symptoms occur, you might experience any or all of the following: jaundice (yellowing of skin and whites of eyes), fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, dark urine, joint pain, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. For all types of viral hepatitis, symptoms are less common in children than in adults. For people of any age with HCV (the C form of hepatitis), they are less likely to experience symptoms.”

What are the five types of Hepatitis?

shutterstock 735489400

It’s important to understand the five types. They’re not at all the same. Recommended treatments differ, and every type has a particular level of risk. Let’s look at them individually:

Hepatitis A

  • Contagious, so it can pass from person to person.
  • Usually contracted by eating contaminated food or drinking water (referred to as the fecal oral route), or having close contact with a person or object already infected.
  • Generally a short-term liver infection, resolving within weeks or a few months.
  • Most recover completely but in some cases can be serious or require hospitalization.
  • No specific treatment for Hep A. Symptom relief may be needed for pain, itching, and nausea.
  • Good hygiene is one of the best protections against hepatitis A.
  • Vaccines are available/recommended for people with risk factors.
  • Vaccines recommended if traveling to areas where the virus is prevalent. Central America, South America, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, the Far East and eastern Europe.

Hepatitis B

  • Occurs through contact with infected blood, semen, or other body fluids.
  • Exposure occurs from sexual relations, sharing needles/drug-injection equipment, or other exposure to contaminated blood (like needlesticks on the job for tech, lab or nursing personnel)
  • Mothers can pass to newborns at birth or soon after.
  • Most adults contracting it recover, but some are carriers. Can spread it to others after their own symptoms disappear.
  • People infected as children develop long-term infection: chronic hepatitis B. Antiviral medication is a treatment. Can lead to cirrhosis/liver cancer.

Hepatitis C

  • Blood-borne virus chiefly spread by contact with contaminated blood, needles for illegal drug injection, contaminated needles for tattoos.
  • Sometimes no symptoms or just mild ones, but can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of liver.)
  • Can become chronic.
  • Differs from Hep B in that usually only spread through blood-to-blood contact, not other body fluids.

Hepatitis D

  • Occurs only if already infected with hepatitis B; tends to make that disease more severe.
  • Spreads through sexual relations and from mother to child.

Hepatitis E

  • Four strains of Hep E have been identified.
  • Diagnosed when a doctor does blood tests for antibodies to the virus. Diagnosis can be difficult; distinguishing between various forms of hepatitis is challenging.
  • Usually clears up on its own. Rarely, can lead to acute liver failure.
  • Mainly in Asia, Mexico, India, and Africa; considered poor sanitation diseases.
  • Cases in the U.S. are mainly because of those returning from countries where there are outbreaks.
  • Usually contracted by eating/drinking what’s been contaminated by fecal matter, similar to Hep A.
  • Mortality rates for this are low. Pregnant women most at risk, and those with suppressed immune systems are at risk for developing a chronic version.

What are the four strains of the Hepatitis E virus (HEV)?

shutterstock 1036896703

The World Health Organization describes the symptomatic HEV infection as involving at least 4 different hepatitis genotypes – Genotypes 1, 2, 3 and 4:

Genotypes 1 and 2 have been found only in humans. Genotype 3 and 4 viruses circulate in several animals (including pigs, wild boars, and deer) without causing any disease, and occasionally infect humans.

The virus is transmitted via the faecal-oral route. It’s shed in the stools of infected persons and contaminates water. Usually the infection is self-limiting and resolves within 2–6 weeks. Occasionally a serious disease, known as fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure) develops and a proportion of people with this disease can die.

Resource-poor areas with frequent water contamination disease is common in resource-limited countries with limited access to essential water, sanitation, hygiene and health services. In these areas, the disease occurs both as outbreaks and as sporadic cases.

The outbreaks usually follow periods of faecal contamination of drinking water supplies and may affect several hundred to several thousand persons, but some areas with safe drinking water supplies have had some cases of Hep E. When it occurs where there is better sanitation and water supply, hepatitis E disease is infrequent with only occasional sporadic cases.

How do you avoid being infected with hepatitis? What are treatments and are there any cures?

shutterstock 1064016815

There are best practices to avoid the various types of hepatitis:

Hep A – Wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom or if you come in contact with an infected person’s blood, stools, or other bodily fluid. Avoid any food or water that you aren’t confident is clean and uncontaminated. Don’t take chances. Using a personal water filtration system like this one that removes bacteria and lowers the risk of viruses is a safe bet.

Hep B –  There are vaccines for Hep B. The vaccine is usually given as 2, 3, or 4 shots over a 1 to 6 month period. The list of those who the CDC says should get the vaccine is long.

Infants should get their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth and will usually complete the series at 6 months of age.

All children and adolescents younger than 19 years of age who have not yet gotten the vaccine should also be vaccinated.

Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for unvaccinated adults who are at risk for hepatitis B virus infection, including:

People whose sex partners have hepatitis B

Sexually active persons who are not in a long-term monogamous relationship

Persons seeking evaluation or treatment for a sexually transmitted disease

Men who have sexual contact with other men

People who share needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment

People who have household contact with someone infected with the hepatitis B virus

Health care and public safety workers at risk for exposure to blood or body fluids

Residents and staff of facilities for developmentally disabled persons

Persons in correctional facilities

Victims of sexual assault or abuse

Travelers to regions with increased rates of hepatitis B

People with chronic liver disease, kidney disease, HIV infection, or diabetes

Anyone who wants to be protected from hepatitis B

The risk of contracting this type with illegal injected drug use is high when equipment is shared. Practice only safe sex. Use condoms correctly and consistently, and know your partner’s history. Donated blood and organs must be pre-screened for the virus. If required to handle blood/body fluids for your job, always take precautions.

Hep C  –  No vaccine to prevent hepatitis C virus infection. Avoiding risky sexual behavior. Use a latex condom and know your partner’s sexual history.

Hep D –  Since it only occurs in those with Hep B, detection and treatment of B as soon as possible can help to help prevent Hep D. Avoid intravenous drug abuse. Never share needles. Get vaccinated against hepatitis B.

Hep E  – Currently no vaccine available. Like Hep A it’s often a contaminated water disease. Always be cautious about the condition of water, especially in developing countries. Drink only purified water, like that which flows through a filter like this one, even for brushing teeth. Don’t add ice. Avoid uncooked or unpeeled foods in these areas, i.e. vegetables, fruit and shellfish, or other items rinsed in water. Hot, cooked food that is served hot is usually OK.

When hepatitis E is suspected and your liver immune system is normal, you might not need medications. Rest, plenty of fluids, and avoiding alcohol is the recommended approach. In some studies, treatment with ribavirin for 3 weeks resulted in improved liver function (only for those who have severe acute illness, and who aren’t pregnant.)

What is the outlook for hepatitis sufferers?

No hepatitis is without risk. You can see that some forms that are much less severe than others. Even those that are serious can be avoided by making wise decisions to protect yourself.

If you have the misfortune of being diagnosed with hepatitis, arm yourself with all the information needed to either regain your health, or get the right treatment to live the fullest life possible. Ongoing research and new treatments provide hope that living with hepatitis doesn’t have to define who you are.

Our Rainforests Are In Peril. Here’s What Needs To Be Done

Our Rainforests Are In Peril. Here’s What Needs To Be Done

Most experts say that over 80,000 acres of rainforest are being destroyed every day, with an additional 80,000 being significantly damaged as a result of logging, agriculture, farming, mining, and dam building. Commercial deforestation occurs on a staggering scale globally, and scientists estimate that we lose 50,000 species of plants and animals annually to extinction due to deforestation.

A few specific industries are causing widespread upticks in deforestation rates, which the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization notes are 8.5 percent higher this decade than they were in the 1990s. Further, researchers estimate that the loss of primary tropical rainforest, which is the wildest and biologically diverse category, has increased by as much as 25 percent since the 1990s.

As many developing nations grow at a rapid rate, their appetite for raw materials as well as land to farm and develop is threatening rainforests around the globe. However, there are still plenty of ways that we can save rainforests, which will save species from disappearing forever while also alleviating other devastating global issues including the water crisis.

The Rainforest Makes it Rain

One of the most interesting and potentially devastating effects of deforestation is the way deforestation creates a ‘negative feedback loop.’ The same trees that absorb carbon dioxide and regulate moisture levels in the air suddenly release CO2 when they are chopped down, and they are no longer there to constantly filter the air. The Amazon rainforest’s massive network of trees creates a natural cycle that causes rain clouds and moisture to accumulate nearby.

Without this cycle, the Amazon region could quickly trend towards arid, further disrupting global weather patterns which have already created a dangerous water shortage in many regions across the planet.

National Geographic Magazine has explained the interaction of the world’s rainforests as creating a “giant flowing river in the sky” as different regions’ rainy seasons push and pull moisture through the air. Rainforests have a profound effect on the weather, and until conservation efforts begin researching and prioritizing the devastating, drought-inducing effects of deforestation, the water crisis will only intensify.

This is particularly true of many developing nations which happen to be located in tropical regions which are currently home to large swaths of rainforest which are being harvested for wood to use in construction and land to farm as these nations’ populations boom.

Food-Hungry Nations Drive Deforestation

shutterstock 511745713

Oftentimes, deforestation is spurred on by a demand for food products that grow in tropical regions. In West Africa, the cocoa trade has spurred on massive deforestation in the Ivory Coast, where rainforest cover has been reduced by more than 80% in the last sixty years.

The global demand for cocoa has created a rampant black and grey market for cocoa beans that has caused enforcement agencies in countries like Ghana and the Ivory Coast to turn a blind eye to the illegal practices that account for up to 40% of the cacao in the global supply chain.

Because it is so difficult to discern the provenance of cocoa once it is gathered in bulk for processing, industry giants like Nestle and Hershey are fueling the demand for the illegal cocoa, which is farmed primarily in freshly-deforested areas, where local farmers believe the “fresh” soil and ashes from burned down trees produce the highest crop yields.

However, deforested areas end up drought-stricken and infertile due to their inability to naturally self-regulate, which only fuels further demand for the illegally-procured deforested farming plots.
Similarly, palm oil farmed in deforested sections of Sumatra is causing major ecological crises and loss of already-threatened species like elephants, tigers, rhinos, and orangutans. Much like the cocoa industry, palm oil is aggregated at processing plants which effectively obscure the oil’s origin, thus “absolving” buyers of direct responsibility for illegal deforestation.

However, the demand for these products is created by major international companies which are acutely aware of the practices required to create large amounts of palm oil and cacao, both of which incentivize farmers to operate illegally in order to boost production and have access to a profitable market.

Sumatra’s deforestation rate is among the world’s highest alongside Indonesia and Brazil, and the deforestation also contributes to drought and unusual wildfires which, in 2015 alone, created more CO2 emissions than the entire United Kingdom combined.

The logging-induced fires that year destroyed over 8,000 square miles of rainforest and contributed to over 100,000 premature deaths caused by exposure to smog or fire. Palm oil is a common vegetable oil that is used in foods, cosmetics, cleaning products, and fuels; it is a biological alternative to petroleum in many instances, but its harvesting is often similarly destructive to fossil fuel production.

Palm oil is the cheapest and most efficient vegetable oil to produce, which is why it’s in a staggering half of all consumer products on the market today. But just because it offers good economic incentives for major corporations, its environmental costs may make it among the most costly commonly-used ingredients today.

In addition to being obscured behind the generic name “vegetable oil,” palm oil is also frequently masked in consumer goods using names like “sodium lauryl sulphate, stearic acid, and palmitate,” all of which do little to betray their origins or allow consumers to make informed decisions.

In Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sumatra, the equivalent of 3oo football fields per hour of rainforest are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. The impacts of deforestation are alarming and widespread, but many developing nations are slow to legislate or enforce environmental action as they prioritize economic growth, even when it comes at the expense of human rights or global ecological well-being. The island of Borneo has lost more than 16,000 square miles of ancient rainforest to palm oil plantations, which has threatened thousands of species of tropical flora and fauna.

To put this in the context of one species which is quite closely related to humans, almost 150,000 critically endangered Bornean orangutans were killed between 1999 and 2015, all lost to deforestation, which occurs in large part due to demand for palm oil.

Local Solutions to Global Problems

shutterstock 278836112

The unfortunate reality is that concerned environmentalists have little to no direct impact or power over the local governments which would theoretically protect rainforests. However, consumers, corporations, and environmental organizations can have a large impact through education initiatives and incentivizing viable alternatives to environmentally harmful products like palm oil and single-use paper goods.

Whether it’s public information campaigns that share the destructive backstory of palm oil with consumers in an effort to pressure major manufacturers or it’s small tech companies and nonprofits offering tools to help local enforcement agencies monitor and protect the forests under their jurisdiction, there are ways we can protect the fragile ecosystems of the world even if we do not have direct voting power in the nations they are located in.

The Rainforest Connection is using machine-learning and second-hand smartphones to create a network of “eyes and ears” in the Amazon rainforest to listen for noises associated with (illegal) logging activity as well as animal chatter that indicates the presence of certain critically-endangered and internationally-protected species.

This project solves a series of problems in protecting rainforests–when forests are still standing, they are extremely dense and difficult to navigate and monitor, which is both a challenge and an excuse for many local agencies. It also gives international watchdog groups credible evidence that CITES-listed endangered species are being directly threatened by logging activity in specific areas, which is a far more directly actionable data point than even the most thorough and credible research hypotheses.

Final Thoughts

Deforestation in global rainforests effects every one of us, no matter where we live. The good news is that every one of us can directly protect the rainforest by reducing the demand for products that contribute to deforestation, all while providing major corporations economic incentive to be transparent and support ecological initiatives instead of turning a blind eye to ecological and environmental catastrophes.

× WhatsApp