War comes to the Green Mountains, chimpanzees get revenge, and a vitamin pill for prostate cancer.
May 18, 2005
Moonlight in Vermont, darkness in Baghdad--Guess which state has the highest death rate among soldiers and Marines sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. OK, we gave it away. Vermont. That beautiful, bucolic, and extremely blue Green State. According to a fascinating story in the Valley News, located White River Junction, written by Jodie Tillman, Vermont had a death rate of 5.6 per 1,000 troops, the highest in the country, three times higher than the national average, and four times higher than New Hampshire, across the river. Only the District of Columbia was higher. When measured against state population, it was the winner (or loser) again, 1.64 military deaths per 100,000 people, three times the national average. It was second in injuries, 5.91 per 100,000. Tillman brought in a statistician from nearby Dartmouth, Gregory Leibon to see if there was anything in the data to explain this except for sheer bad luck. Leibon’s conclusion was that there wasn’t a big enough sample to assume it was anything other than ill winds. Research at Berkeley indicates that small states often have higher death rates, but that doesn’t explain how New Hampshire fared. Other researchers have noted that rural states also tend to suffer a higher mortality rate--no one knows why. The story and the analysis are available on Chance, that wonderful statistical site at Dartmouth, full of null hypothesis, confidence levels, equations and all that good stuff. The newspaper did an unusually good job of keeping calm and scientific.
When you eat a chimpanzee, expect revenge--For those of you with not enough to worry about, try this: Researchers have found two new viruses from the same family as HIV in people in central Africa who hunt apes and chimpanzees. The viruses have jumped from the primates to the humans, which, while not unusual, is worrisome because of what the viruses are. The two are retroviruses, dubbed HTLV-3 and HTLV-4. Why would you hunt a chimp? To eat, of course, which may be one of the ways the viruses jumped. The fear, of course, is that once the viruses have made the jump, they may be transmitted to other people. The research was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, led by Nathan Wolfe. Scientists think the original HIV virus used a similar route. HTLV-3 is similar to a simian virus; HTLV-4 is not like any virus identified so far. It is not known if these two viruses are harmful but the researchers said the people involved--who live in the Cameroon--need to be watched. Retroviruses are particularly problematic.
Drinking milk probably wouldn’t help, but keep on trucking--Researchers in Oregon have developed a potent form of good, old vitamin D that seems to extend the life of men dying of metastasized prostate cancer. These are men for whom surgery, radiation and hormone therapy have failed. The scientists at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland say that by adding the new form of the vitamin, called DN-101 to standard chemotherapy, they have been able to increase the average life expectancy to two years. Sixteen months was the best you get with the chemotherapy alone, so the pills are adding seven months. That is reputedly the highest survival ever seen in a randomized study. Not only that, some of the data is incomplete because half of the subjects are still alive. There appear to be no serious side effects. As we say in science--often--more work needs to be done, mostly a larger study.