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Health Check

Health Check

Health Check grapples with health issues on a global scale, investigates discoveries and solutions in healthcare, and looks at how to deliver a healthier world. Presented by Claudia Hammond.

Living Under a Noisy Flightpath Can Cause Mental Health Problems 2016/07/14, 02:00
Living Under a Noisy Flightpath Can Cause Mental Health Problems

Globalisation means that many more of us are living close to busy airports. And from Phoenix, Arizona to London, England there are groups campaigning against new runways and concentrated flight paths. The noise made by planes as they land and take off has been show to affect sleep and even cardiovascular health. But until now the evidence for a link to problems with mental health has been patchy. <br><br><br><br>Chris lives more than 15 miles from London’s Heathrow airport. Two years ago he was woken up by the noise from a new concentrated flight path right over his house. His family had moved there to de-stress and he found the noise difficult to live with and he had to seek medical help. <br><br><br><br>But how common is Chris’s experience? <br><br><br><br>A major new study from Germany supports the theory that even moderate noise levels – around 50-55 decibels, equivalent to the level of a normal conversation – can increase rates of depression by 17%. The 5-year-long study followed the experiences of a million people living near Frankfurt airport. <br><br><br><br>The project leader of the NORAH study, epidemiologist Professor Andreas Seidler from Dresden University, explains how the data indicated that for every 10 decibel rise above the “conversation” level, the risk of developing depression rose by 10%. He says that further research is needed to make sure the effect isn’t the result of other factors like road traffic noise. <br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>Self-driving, autonomous cars are on their way and the first fatality occurred just recently, causing worry for those behind the technology. But the hope is that they will one day make our journeys safer, faster and more environmentally friendly. But how will other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians react to a car that’s driving itself? Will they be wary, or perhaps more pushy, knowing that in the end the driverless car will do everything it can to avoid a collision? <br><br><br><br>The first UK trials that the public can take part in are just starting in an outdoor lab in London. The Gateway project offers people the chance to ride in an autonomous car. Claudia got into the driver’s seat in a vehicle simulator at the Transport Research Laboratory in the south of England, to meet the chief scientist Dr Alan Stevens. <br><br><br><br>Automated cars are designed to drive quite close together – and “communicate” electronically so this can happen safely. But in one experiment where they are alongside non-automated cars in a simulator, the drivers of the standard cars have been observed copying the smaller gaps between vehicles – which could be dangerous. Dr Stevens says in this “mixed” traffic there could be signs or lights on the driverless vehicles, to warn other drivers to keep their distance. <br><br><br><br><br><br>Transport can save lives when medical help is needed urgently. In parts of rural Uganda 75% of maternal deaths are due to delays in getting to a clinic or to a larger hospital for a caesarean section. So the charity Mama Rescue has created a clever system where pregnant women are given vouchers for local motorcycle taxis called boda bodas to pick them up when they’re in labour and take them to a clinic. <br><br><br><br>If further help is required, taxis can take them from the clinic to hospital – as their medical notes are sent via SMS so that staff can be prepared for each emergency. Peter Klatsky is an American obstetrician and gynaecologist who set up the charity. Whilst training midwives, in rural western Uganda, about how to deal with any complications of labour, he heard that delays of 20 hours for an ambulance were not uncommon. Dr Klatsky says it’s difficult to assess how many lives they have saved – but they have done 1,400 emergency deliveries. He’s now exploring an opportunity to scale-up the programme in partnership with UNICEF and the Ugandan Ministry of Health. <br><br><br><br>Bicycle maintenance and mental health might not seem like they have much in common. But in the Scottish city of a Glasgow a scheme called the Common Wheel aims to...

Cutting-edge Medicine from the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2016/07/07, 02:00
Cutting-edge Medicine from the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

Insect repellent should, of course, deter mosquitoes - but on the other hand they need to be in contact with it for long enough to get the right dose of insecticide. Researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine are using infrared cameras to track the movements of malaria-carrying mosquitoes as they bounce around mosquito nets – to make sure they are landing on them for just the right amount of time. The team has also developed a video game where you capture and test mosquitoes, to help train local teams in mosquito control. <br><br><br><br>Tumours are not just made of cancer cells but also lots of other healthy cells that can be corrupted by the cancer. Reporter Anand Jagatia visited a team at Queen Mary University of London, who are trying to build human cancers in the lab to get a better understanding of how they interact with healthy tissue. <br><br><br><br>We look at the latest generation of plastic body implants – including pins and screws that hold broken bones together as they heal and then melt away when they have done their job. There are even some plastics being developed that can deliver drugs inside the body.<br><br><br><br>Each year 1.5 million people die of fungal infections - more than those who die of malaria. The human body is usually good at coping with fungi, but when fungal infections get a grip on humans, usually if the immune system is weakened, they can be deadly. A team from the University of Aberdeen have developed two computer games to raise awareness of killer fungal infections.<br><br><br><br>If you needed an operation how would you fancy having a robot perform the surgery? Robot-assisted surgery is already taking place, and Faiz Mumtaz, a kidney cancer surgeon from the Royal Free Hospital in London shows us how the latest model works.<br><br><br><br>(Photo: Model of mosquito. Credit: Robert Prendergast)

How War and Conflict Have Helped to Improve Medical Treatments 2016/06/30, 02:00
How War and Conflict Have Helped to Improve Medical Treatments

The personal cost of war for both military and civilians is high. But as well as the lives lost through conflict, there has also been a positive legacy from warfare – in pioneering of new treatments. From dealing with blood loss to extraordinary advances in facial reconstructive surgery, conflicts like World War I have driven technological innovation. This week sees the opening of a new exhibition called Wounded at London’s Science Museum. It coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Somme in Northern France. On 1st July 1916 alone, there were 58,000 British casualties. <br><br><br><br>The need for speedy and effective evacuation and treatment for the injured on the frontline was urgent. But the narrow trenches on the edges of the battlefields made it very difficult to carry the wounded to field hospitals. The deputy curator of the Wounded exhibition Vikki Hawkins explains how a special stretcher – which could be adjusted to turn round tight corners – was used in the muddy trenches. Paper tags were tied onto soldiers to record their injuries and whether medication had been given or a tourniquet applied to stem blood loss. Examples of these tags from both the German and Allied forces are on display at the museum. <br><br> <br><br>Many of the fields of battle were covered in animal manure and infection was a risk to injured soldiers. Anti-tetanus serum was given and antiseptic used to help keep wounds clean. Gadgets such as the Carrel Dakin apparatus were used to deliver antiseptic solution directly and continuously into a wound – via tiny rubber tubes. <br><br><br><br>Blood loss from shrapnel and bullet wounds was an immediate challenge to medical staff on the frontline. Eddie Chaloner is a consultant vascular surgeon who’s served in the Royal Army Medical Corp in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo. <br><br>He explains how blood transfusion was still in its early stages during the First World War. The ABO blood groups had only been discovered by Austrian physician, Karl Landsteiner in 1900 – and the Rh factor wasn’t identified until just before World War II. Direct transfusion – from the donor’s body into the recipient sitting next to them – could be carried out, but not on the large scale required by battlefield injuries. A significant step forward was taken when scientists worked out how to stop the blood from clotting – by using the chemical sodium citrate. <br><br><br><br>When the Germans first started to use poison gas as a weapon, British physiologist John Scott Haldane – famous for bold self-experimentation - went to the frontline to try and identify the gases used. Curator Vikki Hawkins explains how one exhibit, Haldane’s Oxygen Apparatus, may have been a prototype to treat gassed soldiers. It was designed to allow four people to received oxygen at a time – at a pre-selected concentration. Haldane later invented the gas mask. A number of gases were used as weapons - chlorine gas on its own or mixed with phosgene, and later mustard gas caused severe blistering to the body. Doctors used paraffin to treat the blisters. <br><br><br><br>As well as the injuries inflicted by gas, many hundreds of thousands were shot and field hospitals tried to mend the gunshot wounds. But today some victims of gunshot wounds are far from the battlefield. In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India and Latin America, so-called “celebratory” gunfire involves firing weapons up into the air in order to mark a positive event. They’re often considered to be a harmless show of strength or bravado, but Hugo Goodridge reports from the Lebanese capital Beirut, where a number of people have been killed or injured by guns fired in the city. It is illegal to discharge a gun in a public place in Lebanon and the police have used social media to try and change attitudes towards celebratory gunfire. <br><br><br><br>One exhibit - the Thomas splint – has a simple construction and is made of thick wire with a padded circle at the top. It was used in the First World War to...

How Changing Abortion Laws Around the World Affects Women’s Health 2016/06/23, 02:00
How Changing Abortion Laws Around the World Affects Women’s Health

Every day, around 22,000 women suffer from complications related to an unsafe abortion. Every 11 minutes one of these women dies. In countries where abortion is illegal women are forced to use underground abortion services which put their health at risk. <br><br><br><br>This week thousands of people took part in a march in the Polish capital Warsaw, in protest at a proposal to tighten the country’s abortion laws. A drone carrying abortion pills was flown across the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland by the reproductive rights group ROSA. Although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, abortion is illegal there in most circumstances. ROSA’s spokesperson Rita Harrold says they wanted to draw attention to the journeys which women from both countries make in order to end unwanted pregnancies. <br><br><br><br>In other countries there are new attempts to make safe abortions legal in certain circumstances. Sierra Leone has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, and some of these deaths occur during illegal abortions. To prevent these deaths parliament has voted for a bill to allow terminations up to 12 weeks pregnancy and up to 24 weeks in certain circumstances. But for some it is more than a medical issue and religious groups are opposed to the change in the law. So the president has asked for further consultation and that the issues should be put to a referendum. Ufuoma Festus Omo Obi, who is the country director for Marie Stopes International in Sierra Leone, believes that if the law is passed it would improve the lives of women. <br><br><br><br>Around the world more than one in ten 13 - 15-year-olds smoke. In some countries the rates are much higher. If they continue to smoke long term they will shorten their lives by an average of 10 years. Because nicotine is addictive giving up smoking is difficult. So there is a push to deter people from starting smoking in the first place by hiding cigarettes behind the counter in shops – a technique which really does seem to work. <br><br><br><br>If you stick your tongue out at a baby they might do it back to you. This is called imitation - a behaviour which psychologists have used to demonstrate which skills we are born with and which we learn over time. A landmark study of babies from the 1970s suggested we entered the world with an ability to copy others’ facial expressions. But could new research mean that the textbooks need rewriting? A study published in the journal Current Biology by Janine Ooestenbrook from York University – with the help of 109 babies – appears to suggest that they learn to imitate. <br><br> <br><br>(Photo: Pro-choice campaigners march, June 2016, Warsaw, Poland, against proposed changes to restrictive abortion law that would effectively ban terminations. Credit: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images)

First Maps of Diseases Which Spread from Animals to Humans 2016/06/16, 02:00
First Maps of Diseases Which Spread from Animals to Humans

There are many infections in humans which originate from animals. Diseases which spread in this way are called zoonoses. Zika is one example and was first discovered in a monkey with a mild fever in the Zika forest in Uganda in the 1940s. Another is Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome or MERS – which originates in camels. A team from the United States has just mapped where they are found in the world and which animals are harbouring them. And, the map has thrown up a lot of surprises – with bats being behind far fewer zoonotic illnesses than previously thought. Dr Barbara Han, who is a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, says half of carnivore species spread disease – far higher than previously thought and Europe is a “hotspot” for zoonoses. <br><br><br><br>There is a long history of maps being used to track the spread of disease – starting with John Snow. He worked out that cholera was a water-borne infection by mapping where people died in Victorian London – and traced it back to a dirty water pump. <br><br><br><br>If you are getting married there are lots of decisions to make – who to invite, what to wear, the food, the flowers, the honeymoon. One practical issue which couples should also consider is which contraceptive to use if they do not want to start a family straight away. In Nepal a new website is aiming to improve knowledge of reproductive health by combining wedding tips alongside information on family planning. Nepal has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, coupled with low use of birth control. The charity behind the website - Marie Stopes International - hope that couples will continue to use the website and their clinics long after the wedding is over. <br><br><br><br>Can you juggle lots of jobs at the same time? If you can carry out lots of mental tasks simultaneously without denting your performance then you may be what psychologists have dubbed "supertaskers". They make up a mere 2.5% of the population. Now a team in Australia has put a test together online so that you can find out if you are a supertasker. <br><br><br><br>Jason Watson, who is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Colorado in Denver, Colorado, was part of the team which discovered that only a few people are supertaskers. They got people to drive in a simulator whilst talking on the phone, solving maths problems, and learning lists of words. The supertaskers then had a brain scan to find out how they managed all of those tasks together. <br><br><br><br>Andrew Heathcote is professor of Mathematical Psychology at the University of Tasmania. Along with colleagues from the University of Utah, he developed the online Supertasker test for the BBC. It needs to be done on a computer – not a tablet or a mobile phone – and takes about 40 minutes to complete. And it needs to have a keyboard that is not on-screen. It’s very hard as it is intended to separate out that 2.5% of people who are Supertaskers. But you can try it again if it does not make sense. Second time around our presenter Claudia Hammond did much better than when she started. But she did not make it to Supertasker status – and blamed the noisy office where she took the test! <br><br><br><br>(Photo: Maps of geographic ranges of mammal species recognised to carry one or more zoonotic diseases. Credit: Drew Kramer)

The Essential Guide to Zika 2016/02/03, 23:00
The Essential Guide to Zika

Claudia Hammond finds out how much we know for certain about the mosquito-borne Zika virus and what we need to find out next to be able to assess the scale of the threat and deal with it effectively. In this special Health Check programme, Claudia is joined by Jimmy Whitworth, professor of International Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and regular studio guest James Gallagher, who is editor of the BBC health news website.<br><br><br><br>The BBC’s Julia Carneiro meets some worried expectant mothers and women in Brazil who have to make the difficult decision about whether it is safe to become pregnant. And your questions on Zika are answered by experts in the studio in London and on the ground in Brazil; including virologist Professor Paulo Zanotto, from the University of Sao Paulo, who provides his expertise on the Zika virus.<br><br><br><br>(Photo: Mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Is Catching Up with Sleep Good for Your Health? 2016/01/27, 23:00
Is Catching Up with Sleep Good for Your Health?

Over the last fifteen years there has been mounting evidence that if people do not get enough sleep they have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If for example, like a third of the population in the US you get less than six and a half hours sleep every night, your risk doubles and is equivalent to that of someone who is obese. But now a team at the University of Chicago has demonstrated that catching up on sleep with a lie-in could, temporarily at least, reduce that increased diabetes risk. Josiane Broussard is lead author of the study, which has just been published in the journal Diabetes Care.<br><br><br><br>Smokeless tobacco India<br><br>According to researchers at the University of York, more than a quarter of a million people die each year from using smokeless tobacco, and many millions more have their lives cut short or severely compromised due to the effects of chewing tobacco-based products. South-East Asia is a particular hotspot, but India alone accounts for 74% of the global disease burden. <br><br>India has been trying to get a handle on the situation, and nearly three years ago the country's supreme court ordered a ban on Gutka, a particularly harmful but highly popular mix of tobacco, catechu, slaked lime and sweet or savoury flavourings or fragrance. But other equally grim challenges remain because raw tobacco continues to be readily available off the shelf.<br><br>So is the ban on Gutka working, and how much of the battle against smokeless tobacco remains to be fought? The BBC’s Suhail Haleem has been finding out.<br><br><br><br>Eating habits<br><br>Lots of studies have shown that the lighting in a room or the size of your plate can affect your food choices. Now new research published in the journal Environment and Behaviour has found that the larger a waiter or waitress is, the more diners tend to order. Professor Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab in the US, is senior author of the study, which involved researchers going undercover in restaurants.<br><br><br><br><br><br>(Photo: Woman in bed stretches her arms. Credit: Science Photo Library)

The Deadly Disease Melioidosis 2016/01/20, 23:00
The Deadly Disease Melioidosis

Melioidosis was first discovered in Burma around 100 years ago, but is believed to have been around for thousands of years. It is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria burkholderia pseudomallei, which lives in soil and water and is commonly found in South-East Asia and Northern Australia. A team of researchers have just reviewed all reports of the disease, looked at environmental databases and used special modelling to predict where in the world the disease is. They found that the distribution is much wider than previously reported. Dr Direk Limmathurotskal from Mahidol University in Bangkok was first author on the resulting paper, which has just been published in Nature Microbiology.<br><br><br><br>Pedicures for health<br><br>Taking a bit of time to pamper yourself can provide an opportunity for rest and relaxation. One private clinic in Nairobi Kenya has decided to take this a step further and is now using pedicures as an incentive to women to get their health screenings done. The BBC’s Michael Kaloki in Nairobi decided to find out more. <br><br><br><br>Survival from cardiac arrest<br><br>If you are unconscious after a heart attack every minute is vital, and if you live in a tower block you may not want the penthouse suite. Researchers in Canada have found that delays getting let into buildings, waiting for the lift and finding their way once they reach the correct floor, result in it taking on average two minutes longer for paramedics to reach people above the third floor. When the researchers looked back at cases of cardiac arrest between 2007 and 2012 in two regions of Toronto, they saw a significant difference in survival rates and there was only a 0.9% survival rate for those living above the 16th floor. Ian Brennan, a paramedic himself, was lead author of the research. It was conducted by Rescu, a group that studies emergency health care, based at St. Michaels Hospital at the University of Toronto. <br><br><br><br><br><br>(Photo; Cambodian woman uses a pair of water buffalo to plough a wet paddy field on the outskirts of Phnom Pen. Credit: Getty Images)

An App to Help the Health of Migrants 2016/01/13, 23:00
An App to Help the Health of Migrants

With many thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa on the move at the moment in search of safety in Europe, the current cold weather in the Balkans is having an impact on their health. Claudia speaks to a family doctor who is spending his weekends working for International Medical Corps at a camp in Sid in Serbia, helping migrants with their health problems as they pass through. <br><br>Sometimes medical staff helping migrants come across cases that are hard to diagnose or treat. And this is where a new app called MedShr could be very useful. It was designed for medical education, but then the team behind it had the idea of doctors in migrant camps using it to get advice from medical specialists around the world. So far MedShr is already being used by medics treating migrants from Syria in various countries and also in the Calais camp. Dr Asif Qasim, the founder and a cardiologist at King’s College hospital in London, came into the studio to show Claudia how it works.<br><br><br><br>Breakfast: What to Eat?<br><br>What did you have for breakfast today? Last week James Gallagher, editor of the BBC’s Health News website, looked into whether breakfast is as important as we are generally told it is. This week, James is looking into what you should eat if you are going to eat breakfast and want it to be as healthy as possible. <br><br><br><br>Mindfulness <br><br>Mindfulness is an ancient tradition, but is being increasingly popular throughout the world. But that popularity has also been followed by something of a backlash, with journal papers and articles saying mindfulness is not a panacea after all. Yet those who practice it often say they feel it improves their mental health. So Health Check thought they would take a good hard look at the evidence. When does mindfulness make a difference to mental health? Claudia is joined by professor Willem Kuyken, director of the Mindfulness Centre at the University of Oxford; a centre which has done some of the most influential trials on mindfulness, and Andre Tomlin, who regularly sifts the statistics for his popular blog the Mental Elf. <br><br><br><br>(Photo:Migrants gather in a holding area in Sid, Serbia. Credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)

Malaria and River Blindness Drugs Share Nobel Prize 2015/10/07, 23:00
Malaria and River Blindness Drugs Share Nobel Prize

This year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three scientists whose research on parasitic diseases has saved the lives of millions and the sight of hundreds of millions of people in tropical countries. Following a lead from traditional Chinese medicine, Dr Youyou Tu discovered and isolated a chemical, artemisinin, from the sweet wormwood plant. Artemisinin is now the basis of successful malaria treatment worldwide. She shared the prize with Japanese microbiologist Satoshi Omura and Irish-born medicinal chemist William C Campbell for their discovery of a new chemical produced by a soil microbe. They discovered it killed roundworm parasites. It was modified into a drug, Ivermectin, which has been used to treat and prevent River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis in hundreds of millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.<br><br><br><br>Five years ago, 33 men were rescued from deep within a mine in Chile after being trapped for 69 days. Jane Chambers talks to two of the miners and experts involved in their ordeal about the psychological impact of the experience.<br><br><br><br>Picture: Ivermectin is administered. Credit: Getty Images