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The Dorsal View

Disease outbreaks are no longer a priority 

In our little corner of the world, we are quite familiar with the concept of ‘penny wise, pound foolish’. Especially GPs — inadequate resourcing and a lack of the necessary diagnostic tools are just two of the reasons primary care is creaking under the strain of more patients than it should have to deal with. 

It brings no comfort to know that we are not alone. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that it is planning to drastically scale-back its efforts to control infectious disease epidemics that have the potential to develop into pandemics. The simple reason — you guessed it — is that the money is running out and there are no new funds on the horizon. 

In 2014, an emergency financial package was approved by US Congress, which amounted to approximately $600 million in response to the Ebola epidemic. That is due to run out in September 2019 and this will mean that 39 out of the 49 countries covered under the measures will no longer have the ability to tackle infectious disease outbreaks at their source. 

CDC staff were informed of the situation recently and CDC country directors have been put on notice that future efforts will be focused on “10 priority countries”, according to the Wall Street Journal

The countries that will not receive support from 2019 include some of the world’s hot-spots for infectious disease outbreaks, including the Congo, Haiti, Rwanda, Pakistan and China. The CDC will now focus its efforts on Jordan, Senegal, Uganda, Guatemala, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Vietnam, Thailand and India. 

If you have an uneasy feeling about this, you are not alone. A coalition of world health representative groups have written to the US Health and Human Services office to ask that the cut in funding be reversed, pointing out that ‘prevention is better than cure’. So far, their words have fallen on deaf ears. 

Last year, the Congo saw a potentially lethal outbreak of Ebola in a remote area. It was dealt with swiftly and efficiently by a team of CDC rapid responders and ‘disease detectives’, as they are known. 

So hundreds of millions of dollars will be saved, but here’s an interesting statistic: In total, the Ebola outbreak has cost US taxpayers a total of $5.4 billion in emergency supplemental funding. That’s not even counting the cost in terms of human life and suffering. 

‘Penny wise, pound foolish’ doesn’t even come close.

The smell of serenity 

Of all the ideas from left-field to help reduce stress, this is one of the more unusual. And potentially scandalous, if you get caught. 

But first, picture this: If your partner is away from home, are you one of those people who will sleep on their side of the bed, perhaps using their pillow as a source of comfort? If so, the folks at the University of British Colombia in Canada have a hypothesis that might interest you. 

They conducted a study involving 96 opposite-sex couples and discovered that women feel more calm and have lower levels of cortisol when they take a big whiff of their partner’s shirt, even without the partner being present. 

It was an unusual study design — men were given a clean T-shirt to wear for 24 hours but were not permitted to use any scented body products, smoke, or eat anything that might influence the scent they produce. (In case you’re wondering, women were the focus of this trial because they apparently have a better sense of smell than men.) 

The T-shirts were either unworn, were worn by their partner or had been worn by a stranger. But first, the women were primed with stressful tasks, such as a mathematics test or a mock job interview, and also completed a questionnaire to self-assess their stress levels. Saliva samples were also taken to measure their cortisol levels. 

The results were revealing and surely have an evolutionary dimension — Women who sniffed their partner’s shirt had reduced levels of stress, while smelling a stranger’s T-shirt had the opposite effect, raising cortisol levels and overall anxiety. The results also applied when the ladies took a whiff before they completed the exam or interview. The effect was magnified when the women were aware that it was in fact their partner’s shirt they were smelling. 

Lead author Dr Marlise Hofer explained in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realise why they engage in these behaviours. 

“Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress… From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that leads to elevated cortisol. This could happen without us being fully aware of it.” 

To all you stressed-out folks on the red-eye shift, I hope these findings were of some assistance. However, if you get caught behind the filing cabinet sniffing an item of men’s clothing, you’re on your own. 

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