Gaining Ground in the Fight Against HIV

Gaining Ground in the Fight Against HIV

Gaining Ground in the Fight Against HIV

Gaining Ground in the Fight Against HIV

The battle against HIV has been a long and hard one, as researchers struggle to gain ground against the virus that currently infects over 1.1 million Americans… and over 36 million worldwide. There was a brief moment of celebration in 2011, when doctors in Mississippi announced they’d cured a baby born with HIV, but that moment was short-lived… in 2013, tests found that the child’s HIV had returned.

“It felt like a punch to the gut,” Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center told CNN. “It was extremely disappointing from both the scientific standpoint … but mainly for the sake of the child who is back on medicine and expected to stay on medicine for a very long time.”

The most promising field in HIV treatment, it seems, still lies in preventing people from becoming infected in the first place. The CDC reports that annual HIV diagnoses were slightly down last year, something they attribute to targeted HIV prevention efforts. Even with a decline, however, there are nearly 40,000 new cases a year. But that could quickly be changing.

The National Institute of Health (along with partners Johnson & Johnson and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations) announced in November the launch of a massive HIV vaccination test. Focused in South Africa (where the virus has spread particularly quickly), the vaccine is being administered to nearly 2,600 HIV-negative women. As women and young girls tend to be the most impacted by the virus in that region, researchers hope that this sampling will produce the most dramatically positive effects.

This testing comes on the heels of another vaccine (HVTN 702), launched last year at this time in South Africa, that has shown promise of slowing the virus. And a third drug (cabotegravir, an experimental drug that requires doses every two months) is being tested on HIV-positive patients in the same region. Results aren’t expected until 2022, but if all goes as planned, these tests could change the landscape of HIV treatment forever, and that is certainly worth the wait.

“No one tool is going to be enough to do the job, because every tool doesn’t work the same for every person or every country,” says Kristin Lanphear of Trillium Health. “Both of these developments take some variability out of the equation – they rely less on continued action (taking a daily medication or using condoms consistently, for example) and allow for one-time or episodic commitment to a health behavior.”

Another medical breakthrough, the “block-and-lock” treatment that has shown promise in lab tests, is also being eyed as a possible medical weapon in the near future.

Of course, with such a stigma surrounding HIV, plenty of false information and myths have begun circulating regarding the new treatments and vaccines. The HIV Vaccine Trials Network has a great FAQ page to address some of the most prevalent. You can check it out here.

Here’s hoping that very soon we’ll be able to hear the phrase “I used to have HIV” from our patients.

For more information on beginning your own career in health care, visit Unitek College for information on our available nursing, online nursing, and medical assistant programs.

Exercise Alone Won't Shed Holiday Pounds

Exercise Alone Won’t Shed Holiday Pounds… But Don’t Give It Up

Exercise Alone Won't Shed Holiday Pounds

Exercise Alone Won’t Shed Holiday Pounds

Thanksgiving may be over, but the effects of all that food are just settling in. Whether you were one of the lucky ones able to take off work to feast with family, or you took advantage of leftovers after that holiday hospital shift, if you’re like many Americans this week, your bathroom scale may be reading slightly higher than usual. You’re also probably anxious to see that number go back down before you have to buy that larger sets of scrubs. But if you think that just a few extra trips to the gym this week will do the trick, you may be disappointed.

A new study done by Bangor University in the United Kingdom claims that exercise alone rarely leads to weight loss. Of the 34 women who took part in the study, and regardless of whether the test subjects were lean, overweight, or obese, none of those involved lost weight… even after 12 circuit training exercise classes across four weeks.

In fact, for women who are overweight or obese, exercise actually lead to an increase in appetite hormones, the study claims.

“Our body system is so well regulated, that it always finds a way to compensate for a loss in energy after exercise,” says Dr. Hans-Peter Kubis, a co-author of the study. “Whether they are aware of it or not, someone undertaking more physical activity or exercise may experience increased appetite as a result, and this makes it difficult for people to achieve their goals.”

But if you think this means we should start skipping those trips to the gym, think again. Dr. Kubis stresses that while exercise alone may not directly lead to weight loss, it’s still an important part of a weight loss program… along with many other benefits.

“To be effective, exercise training for weight loss needs to be integrated into a lifestyle approach to weight loss, including exercise combined with diet.”

In other words, keep that appointment at the gym, on the running trail, or in that spin class… just make sure you combine it with healthy changes to diet as well. And that may just mean looking the other way when a co-worker brings leftover pie to the nurses’ station.

Of course, a solid (and doctor approved) exercise program can have a lot more benefits than just contributing towards weight loss, benefits such as:

·       Improving your memory – A study found that exercise right after learning can boost your memory (particularly helpful to keep in mind if you’re currently studying to become a nurse).

·       Disease prevention – Exercise has been found to prevent a variety of age-related diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes.

·       Stronger emotional health – Endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are all released during exercise, meaning a happier you.

·       Fewer PMS symptoms – One study found that 80% of subjects had less pain, bloating, and irritation during PMS if they exercised regularly.

·       Social outlets – Exercise classes or running groups are great ways to meet new people. This not only makes the exercise easier, but it also helps prevent the negative health effects caused by loneliness.

In the words of Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (MD), “Exercise is not a weight loss drug, and so long as we continue to push exercise primarily (and sadly sometimes exclusively) in the name of preventing or treating adult or childhood obesity, we’ll also continue to shortchange the public about the genuinely incredible health benefits of exercise and, simultaneously, misinform them about the realities of long-term weight management.”  

So even though that extra jog this week might not completely counter that third helping of Aunt Frieda’s pecan pie last Thursday, keep that appointment with your jogging shoes anyway. And if you really want to help that bathroom scale number, get ready to pass on the eggnog  and fudge as the Christmas goodies start making their rounds.

For more information on beginning your own career in health care, contact Unitek College today for information on our many nursing and medical assistant programs.

Why Thanksgiving Is So Busy In Your Hospital

Why Thanksgiving Is So Busy In Your Hospital

Why Thanksgiving Is So Busy In Your Hospital

Why Thanksgiving Is So Busy In Your Hospital

Life always seems busier around the holidays, and life inside a hospital is no exception. Thanksgiving in particular can often be one of the busiest times of the year for those in the medical profession, and with good reason.

Cooking injuries are one of the top culprits, of course. Minor burns and cuts from food preparation are to be expected during the rush to create the perfect Thanksgiving feast, but the rise in popularity of fried turkey adds a whole new level of danger to the holiday.

“If a turkey fryer is used the way it’s supposed to be used by people who are not impaired by alcohol or drugs, I think they’re fine,” said Dr. Thomas Esposito, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Injuries from turkey fryers are rare, but when they happen to you or a family member, that doesn’t matter – they are very devastating.”

The high volume of holiday traffic also contributes to more visits to the ER. More cars on the road mean more chances of an accident, especially with daylight ending much earlier. Alcohol consumption and drunk driving also rises—the day before Thanksgiving has even earned the title (and hashtag) of Blackout Wednesday among younger drinkers.

But one of the most dangerous culprits at Thanksgiving is also the one that looks the most harmless, the most inviting, and will be in the majority of American homes on Thursday: the Thanksgiving meal itself… or rather, the amount of sodium packed into it.

Dr. Div Verma, a cardiologist at Banner University Medical Center in Phoenix, has come to expect a 25 to 30 percent increase in patients around the Thanksgiving holiday, according to NBC affiliate KPNX.

“The most common problems are usually shortness of breath, heart failure, palpitations,” Dr. Verma said. “Some people even faint from arrhythmias. If you have valvular heart disease, you’ll come in with heart failure and stuff like that.”

“Salt is the biggest culprit,” she adds. “Nobody really estimates the amount of salt they’re consuming because it is hidden. The food tastes so good, they don’t think about the salt content of the food.”

When we ingest large amounts of sodium (which is hidden literally everywhere in your holiday food, as detailed here), you throw off the internal fluid balance in your body, making it more difficult for your kidneys to remove the excess fluid in your blood stream. This strain on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys causes a spike in overall blood pressure, and for patients already dealing with heart issues or hypertension, this could spell a serious problem.

Of course, there’s no way to entirely prevent these holiday accidents from occurring. So the best you can do as a nurse to help educate your own friends and families to keep them safe this year, and mentally prepare to help those who will undoubtedly make a holiday mistake or two this week.

No one wants to be in a hospital on the holidays—least of all your patients—and this Thanksgiving, we’re especially thankful for all of the doctors and nurses putting on scrubs instead of aprons, and keeping an eye on the rest of us this week.

If you’d like information on beginning your own career in nursing, contact Unitek College here for more information about our many available programs.

Nurse Takes “Hero” To New Level

Nurse Takes “Hero” To New Level

Nurse Takes “Hero” To New Level

Nurse Takes “Hero” To New Level

If you look up the definition of hero, you’ll see one described as a person “admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” (If the definition describes one as a submarine sandwich, you’re looking at the wrong hero). And with that definition in mind, it’s easy to see why most people unanimously agree that nurses are heroes. But when you hear the word “superhero”, you probably don’t think of nurses first. You probably think of superpowered beings in tights fighting villains and aliens on the big screen or in comic books. But once you meet nurse Tobin Matthew, that all may change.

12 years ago, Tobin graduated from nursing school and went to work at Chicago’s Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, where he called his job of caring for infants and small children “the best job in the world”. On his very first day, Tobin wore a superhero t-shirt during his shift, not knowing that he’d just begun a 12-year tradition that would one day attract a national spotlight.

“I guess it sort of happened organically,” Tobin told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m really into super heroes. As a kid, I would grow up reading comic books and watching super hero movies. When I started at what was called Children’s Memorial back then, I found that the kids that I took care of seemed to be into the same stuff that I was. So I was like ‘OK, I’m going to start wearing super hero shirts,’ and sort of just spiraled from there … I would say kids and parents get about equally excited now, which is really cool.”

Since then, his costumes have ranged from Superman to the Hulk to the Ninja Turtles. And on holidays such as Halloween and Christmas, when being in a hospital is especially difficult for kids, he’ll make up to five wardrobe changes to bring as much light as possible to his young patients. He’s raced down halls as the Flash, hung upside down as Spider-man, and there’s no telling where his heart or creativity will take him next.

Because of his efforts, and the impact he’s had on so many of his patients, Tobin was recently featured on the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (you can watch the story here). He was also awarded the 2017 American Red Cross Nurse Hero award, an award given each year to a nurse who “exhibited heroism either in their response to an emergency situation or through an ongoing commitment to the community through acts of kindness, courage or unselfishness in response to an identified need.”

“The biggest compliment that you can receive is a family trusting you with their kids, the most important thing in their lives,” says Tobin. “Dressing as a superhero helps me to motivate myself to be the absolute best I can be for my families at the hospital. Some of the patients you take care of for months and years. It is my job to let them be kids, let them know I care and make that time as special as possible.”

And there is no shortage of literal compliments for Tobin’s care, either. On the hospital’s Facebook page, one mother writes “Tobin was my son Isaac’s nurse many days when he was admitted in May and June with a mysterious illness that left him in isolation with facial lesions! We can’t say thank you enough to this superhero nurse for all that he did to help us during some very difficult days. Thank you, Tobin!!”

So a big thanks to Tobin and the many other nurses out there like him who daily go above and beyond for the people in their care. You may not be in tights and a cape, but you qualify as superheroes in our book. (Besides, scrubs look a lot more comfortable).

If you’d like information on starting your own career in health care, contact Unitek College today for information on our many nursing and medical assistant programs.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) for Healthcare

What Advances In A.I. Mean For Healthcare

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) for Healthcare

What Advances In A.I. Mean For Healthcare

The world of artificial intelligence (A.I.) has exploded in recent weeks as scientists, researchers, and programmers make breakthrough after breakthrough in the race to create computers that think for themselves. Whether it’s self-driving cars, Google attempting to rewrite neural networks to better help computers “understand” what they’re “seeing”, or the country of Saudi Arabia granting citizenship to a robot, one thing is clear: artificial intelligence is no longer something out of Star Trek, but something we may start seeing in our daily lives.

But what do all these advances mean for the world of healthcare? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Because AI is able to process images and identify patterns quickly, one of the top healthcare applications is in oncology—spotting and diagnosing various types of cancer. One of the most recent breakthroughs was just made in the detection of colon cancer.

“The most remarkable breakthrough with this system is that artificial intelligence enables real-time optical biopsy of colorectal polyps during colonoscopy, regardless of the endoscopists’ skill,” explains Dr Yuichi Mori, one of the project leads.

The diagnostic program, assisted by AI, is able to check nearly 300 features of polyps found in the colon… all in less than a second. And the results are incredible—of the 306 polyps examined in the test, the AI performed “with a 94 percent sensitivity, 79 percent specificity, and 86 percent accuracy. In identifying abnormal tissue growth, the system demonstrated 79 percent positive and 93 percent negative predictive values.”

In other words, it’s a program that’s very fast, very accurate, and could very well be saving lives soon.

Another team took AI in a similar route, using a Google algorithm originally built to identify pictures of cats and dogs, and turning it into a system to identify melanoma.

And the computers aren’t stopping at just identifying cancer. IBM’s Watson (the supercomputer that won Jeopardy in 2011) is also being used to help prescribe treatments once cancer is spotted. And not only did Watson’s suggestions match doctors’ suggestions 99% of the time, the computer suggested additional options that human doctors had missed in 30% of the tests.

AI is even being used to help spot suicidal tendencies in mental health patients.

That’s a lot of technology developing in just a short amount of time, and the breakthroughs will come faster and faster as AI becomes more and more commonplace. But there’s no reason to fret about the robots taking our health care jobs just yet. These new technologies make it easier for doctors and nurses to spot details and make diagnoses, they help prevent mistakes, and they help keep health care quality uniform from office to office, hospital to hospital. But at the end of the day, it’s still the human touch—your touch—that makes the difference in a patient’s life.

Computers may be expanding health care’s collective brain, but nurses will always be at the heart.

For more information on becoming a nurse or medical assistant, contact Unitek College today.

Battle Against Alzheimer's

Breaking Down Barriers in the Battle Against Alzheimer’s

Battle Against Alzheimer's

Breaking Down Barriers in the Battle Against Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that touches nearly everyone in some way. With over 5.5 million Americans diagnosed, there’s a strong chance that you will come in contact with the disease in some way. And as a nurse, that chance becomes a near certainty.

Watching as someone suffers through Alzheimer’s is incredibly difficult, and can also be difficult to fully grasp. This video (released at the end of 2014) manages to capture some of that confusion and sense of lost time that comes with the disease. Authors Virginia Bell and David Troxel attempt to explain the feeling by asking their readers to imagine that moment from school when the teacher calls on you in front of the class to answer a question, but you don’t have the answer

“How did we feel?” they ask. “We remember the feeling of our collar tightening, voice faltering, palms sweating, and face blushing.” Then they call to our attention that “The person with Alzheimer’s disease is in a giant classroom every day, one in which he or she never has the exact answer.”

It’s a frightening concept, and an even more frightening future. But while there currently isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, advances are being made in the battle against it. And the advance made this year is one of the biggest yet.

Earlier this year, researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto successfully used focused ultrasound to “safely and non-invasively breach the blood-brain barrier (BBB) temporarily in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in a clinical trial”.

The blood-brain barrier exists in our brains to protect the smallest capillaries from allowing anything alien into our brain’s bloodstream. It’s a very important protective system, but one that also prevents potentially life-saving medicines from entering the brain. For those with diseases like Alzheimer’s, this poses a major challenge, but the Sunnybrook trials may have found a way around it.

“By opening up the BBB using low frequency ultrasound, we’ve taken a small but important step that opens up a whole new vista of possibilities,” says Dr Sandra Black, a co-investigator in the trial. “The hope is there may be a way to eventually open up multiple little windows, in a gentle way, in order to get large molecules like drugs and even stem cells into the brain. But we need to take it one step at a time.”

Now that researchers have successfully bypassed the brain-blood barrier, the next step is to use the technology to administer Alzheimer’s treatments while the BBB windows are open. This will mean a second trial, of course, but researchers are optimistic, calling it “a small but critical step that could lead to a game-changing approach to treating one of the most challenging and least understood brain diseases.”

In the meantime, though, there are many resources available for nurses (and family members and friends) who work closely with Alzheimer’s patients. The Alzheimer’s association, for example, has this wonderful article on how to best communicate with a patient during the varying stages of the disease. Lisa Genova gives an informative and captivating talk on what causes (and how to help prevent) the disease, a video available here. And provides a helpful list of caregiver burnout to watch out for—you can’t take care of others, they point out, until you’ve made sure you’ve taken care of yourself.

For more on beginning a career in health care, contact Unitek College today to talk to someone about our many nursing and medical assistant programs.