Are mobile phones dangerous in hospitals?

Is there any evidence that signals do, or ever did, disrupt medical equipment? Claudia Hammond explores the evidence and encounters mixed reception.


When I was a volunteer working in hospital radio in my teens, patients who wanted to call their relatives had to wait until a heavy payphone on wheels was trundled up to their bedside. When it wasn’t being used by another patient, that is. Then came mobile phones and for a short time people were able to keep in touch with their families as much as they desired, until many hospitals around the world banned the use of mobile phones on hospital wards, fearing they might cause essential medical equipment to malfunction.

Lots of patients flouted the rules and so did some staff. In a survey in 2004, 64% of doctors confessed to leaving their phones switched on in high-risk areas, such as operating theatres or high dependency units.

Many hospitals are now relaxing the rules when it comes to wards and corridors, but it’s taking some time. In the Canadian province of Quebec the first hospital lifted restrictions only six months ago.

Is there any evidence that mobile phone signals do, or ever did, disrupt equipment? In a paper published in 2006 the eminent epidemiologist Martin McKee pointed out that although the use of evidence-based treatment was on the increase, evidence was sometimes lacking when it came to other hospital activities. Mobile phones were a prime example. He examined practices in eight European countries and found that all had a ban of some kind, with France even bringing in legislation against mobile phone use in hospitals.

In some early studies, there was minimal interference in 1-4% of equipment tested, but only if they were within a metre of a phone. This might sound like a small number, but if it’s a vital piece of equipment keeping someone alive then it could be critical. Yet the authors of a 2007 paper on the topic could not track down a single death caused by the use of a mobile phone.

Interference from a phone depends on three things – the intensity of the signal, the frequency of the signal and the degree to which equipment is shielded.  Whenever a phone is switched on it transmits a signal hoping to make contact with a base station in order to send and receive calls or texts and with smartphones, emails and other data. Once these electromagnetic waves are being transmitted, any length of wire in a piece of medical equipment can act as an antenna. In principle, even the wire linking a patient to a monitor could do it. It’s the resulting electric current which could disrupt the equipment. In the newest kinds of devices the internal wires have been shortened in order to avoid this.

A few studies have recorded flickering screens and in one case an old infusion pump stopped working. In another study interference was observed in 20% of the tests, but only 1.2% was considered clinically important.

A Dutch study of second and third generation phones tested 61 medical devices used in critical care, and found that 43% were affected by phones. These ranged from ventilators turning off, to syringe pumps stopping and external pacemakers losing the correct pace.  But the phones were very, very close – the median distance was just 3cm. Also instead of using real phones, they used a generator which simulated a worst-case scenario, where a phone transmits with increased power in the hope of getting a signal. (To save on battery power phones transmit at weaker power whenever they can.) In real life, provided the signal in a hospital is good then phones won’t be transmitting at this rate.

Current phones cause even less interference and modern medical equipment is better-shielded, but the most recent guidance from theNational Health Service in Britain, for example, still warns against their use in critical or intensive card wards, stating that they could interfere with dialysis machines, defibrillators, ventilators and monitors. For the moment, this could be a wise precaution, because if a phone were held very close to a piece of equipment then it might affect it. For this reason, some have suggested that medical equipment should come ready-protected from such signals, or that hospitals install phone base stations to prevent the phones from having to transmit at stronger power in order to get a signal. This would, of course, cost hospitals money.

Far from causing incidents, mobile phones might even prevent them by allowing doctors to respond faster. A survey of more than four thousand anaesthesiologists in the US found they were six times more likely to have witnessed an injury or error as a result of delays in communication than to have observed interference of any kind (even non-risky interference) caused by a mobile phone.

So with the exception of holding phones next to critical care equipment, there is no convincing evidence supporting blanket bans on the grounds of electromagnetic interference. But there might be other reasons why phones are not so desirable in hospitals. Phones are hard to clean, and how many of us ever do so? A study of healthcare workers in Southern India found that 95% of their phones were contaminated with bacteria. Meanwhile studies of staff phones in Barbados and patients’ phones in a hospital in Turkey both showed contamination rates of 40%, sometimes with bacteria known to show resistance to many types of antibiotics.

On top of the hygiene problems, there are issues of privacy. Most phones now come complete with cameras and sometimes people just can’t resist taking pictures. The LA Times reported that staff at one hospital even took photos of a 60-year-old man dying from multiple stab wounds and put them up on Facebook. In that case, perhaps phones in hospitals aren’t such a good idea after all.


Source: BBC



Why we have to turn electronic devices off on planes.

Mobile phones and other gadgets could interfere with sensitive electronic systems, some theories suggest. So why is it still so difficult to prove the truth behind the claims?


I have a guilty secret to confess. My plane was preparing for take-off from London’s Heathrow Airport in March when a flight attendant made the usual request for passengers to turn their electronic devices off. Far from complying, I pushed my smartphone deeper into my pocket. I had important work messages to check, and surely my little handset wasn’t going to cause the plane to plummet from the sky, was it?

It seems I’m not alone. A recent survey found around four out of 10 US air passengers admitted they don’t always turn their gadgets off on flights. One notable occasion saw the actor Alec Baldwin reacting furiously on Twitter after being kicked off a Los Angeles-to-New York flight before take off for refusing to stop playing the online game Words With Friends on his phone.

According to regulations, which are pretty uniform around the world, the use of portable electronic devices is not allowed below around 3,000m (10,000ft), even in “flight mode” which stops the transmission of signals. Above this height devices like laptops and music players can be used, but phones must remain off. These rules are important, we are told, to avoid potentially dangerous interference between signals from these devices and sensitive onboard electronic systems. But do these fears have any scientific basis, or is it time to relax the rules?

The fear of interference comes from the fact that gadgets connect to the internet or to mobile phone networks using radio waves. To explain the theoretical dangers, Peter Ladkin, Professor of Computer Networks and Distributed Systems at Bielefeld University, Germany, uses the analogy of holding a blowtorch to your household heating pipes. The central heating system in your house makes changes based on the readings of thermometers within those pipes, so the blowtorch will heat the water, change the temperature readings and trigger the system to make adjustments.

Personal mobile devices could act in a similar way on aeroplanes, on which hundreds of electronics-based systems, known as avionics, are used for navigation, to communicate with the ground and to keep track of the components that keep them in the air. Some involve sensors that communicate information to cockpit instruments. It’s not just an issue with mobile phones. Kindles, iPods, laptops, handheld gaming consoles – they all emit radio waves. If these are at frequencies close to those of the avionics, signals and readings could be corrupted. This could affect systems such as radar, communications and collision avoidance technology, and the problem is potentially magnified if gadgets are damaged and start emitting stronger radio waves than they should, or if signals from multiple devices combine.

So much for the theory, but is there any proof that this is a problem? There are no known recorded incidents of crashes having been definitely caused by such interference, but that said the causes of accidents can sometimes remain unknown. A flight recorder may not identify that a critical system has failed because of electromagnetic interference from passengers’ devices.

System malfunction

But while definite proof may be lacking, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the risks should be taken seriously. A report summarising 50 cases of safety issues thought to have been caused by personal electronic devices, was published in January this year. These were compiled from the US Aviation Safety Reporting System, a database maintained by Nasa, to which crew members can anonymously submit reports of safety problems. One such case was summarised as follows: “First Officer reports compass system malfunctions during initial climb. When passengers are asked to verify that all electronic devices are turned off the compass system returns to normal.”

A 2006 analysis of the database identified 125 reports of interference from electronic gadgets, of which 77 were defined as “highly correlated”. In one incident a 30-degree error in navigation equipment was immediately corrected when a passenger turned off a portable DVD player. This problem reoccurred when the device was switched back on. Fight crew have reported a number of similar cases in which they have watched readings on navigations systems change apparently in response to passengers being asked to turn specific devices on and off. In another report, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) identified 75 separate incidents of possible electronic interference that pilots believe were linked to mobile phones and other electronic devices between 2003 and 2009.

In the competitive world of aviation, some airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and Delta Airlines have started advertising the use of technologies that allow greater use of mobile devices on flights. In-flight mobile phone systems such as OnAir and AeroMobile use miniature on-board base stations called picocells which allow devices to transmit at lower power levels. Transmissions are processed, transmitted to a satellite and then on to the normal ground networks. This, says AeroMobile chief executive Kevin Rogers, enables the use of mobiles “as a roaming service just like when you go to a foreign country, except that in a foreign country you don’t need a satellite link.” Some airlines, such as Boeing, are now starting to fit AeroMobile equipment during production.

These systems allow you to use your phone while at cruise altitude, but not during take-off and landing. Rogers thinks that this might change one day, but at the moment it is still difficult to “prove categorically that there is indeed no interference – so airlines tend to err on the side of caution and be conservative.”

But as Rogers adds: “Many phones are always left on anyway. If there was a real risk of interference of a mobile phone or an iPad with the aircraft’s systems, people would not be allowed to take them on the aircraft at all.”

Some air authorities remain unconvinced, however. In-air mobile services cannot be used in US airspace, for example. The US Federal Aviation Administration has come under pressure to relax its rules and last year set up a group of experts to study the question. A decision is expected by the end of this year.

Richard Taylor, a spokesman of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, believes it is just a matter of time before we see more widespread use of mobile devices on aircraft, but that calls will remain banned during take-off or landing for the foreseeable future.

“When regulators like us are convinced that an aircraft can be used safely even with portable electronic devices being used in the cabin, that the signal being emitted from the cabin at any stage of the flight can be safely absorbed without affecting any of the aircraft systems, of course the rules will be relaxed,” he says. “But it’s up to the manufacturers, and of course to the airlines, to prove that they are operating the aircraft safely.”

Perhaps that day may come soon. However, having learnt how difficult it is to prove definitively that planes are safe from interference, I’ll be making sure my phone is properly switched off in future. After all, when I’m en route to my holiday in the sun, I don’t want my handset to be responsible for tricking the pilot into landing in some rainy old place. Or for something even worse.

Source: BBC


When does your mental health become a problem?

One in four people are expected to experience a mental health problem, yet stigma and discrimination are still very common. Myths such as assuming mental illness is somehow down to a ‘personal weakness’ still exist.


How do we define mental health?

A person who is considered ‘mentally healthy‘ is someone who can cope with the normal stresses of life and carry out the usual activities they need to in order to look after themselves; can realise their potential; and make a contribution to their community. However, your mental health or sense of ‘wellbeing’ doesn’t always stay the same and can change in response to circumstances and stages of life.

Everyone will go through periods when they feel emotions such as stress and grief, but symptoms of mental illnesses last longer than normal and are often not a reaction to daily events. When these symptoms become severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to function, they may be considered to have a significant psychological or mental illness.

Someone with clinical depression, for example, will feel persistent and intense sadness, making them withdrawn and unmotivated. These symptoms usually develop over several weeks or months, although occasionally can come on much more rapidly.

Mental health problems are defined and classified to help experts refer people for the right care and treatment. The symptoms are grouped in two broad categories – neurotic and psychotic.

Neurotic conditions are extreme forms of ‘normal’ emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Around one person in 10 experiences these mood disorders at any one time. Psychotic symptoms affect around one in 100 and these interfere with a person’s perception of reality, impairing their thoughts and judgments. Conditions include schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Mental illness is common but fortunately most people recover or learn to live with the problem, especially if diagnosed early.

What causes mental illness?

How common are mental illnesses in the UK?

  • Anxiety will affect 10% of the population
  • Bipolar disorder will affect one in 100
  • One in every 150 15-year-old girls will get anorexia, and one in every 1000 15-year-old boys
  • 20% of people will become depressed at some point in their lives
  • OCD will affect 2%
  • Personality disorder will affect one in 10, though for some it won’t be severe
  • Schizophrenia will affect one in 100

Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists

The exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known but a combination of physical, psychological and environmental factors are thought to play a role.

Many mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder can run in families, which suggests a genetic link. Experts believe many mental illnesses are linked to abnormalities in several genes that predispose people to problems, but don’t on their own directly cause them. So a person can inherit a susceptibility to a condition but may not go on to develop it.

Psychological risk factors that make a person more vulnerable include suffering, neglect, loss of a parent, or experiencing abuse.

Difficult life events can then trigger a mental illness in a person who is susceptible. These stressors include illness, divorce, death of a loved one, losing a job, substance abuse, social expectations and a dysfunctional family life.

When is someone thought to be mentally ill?

A mental illness can not be ‘tested’ by checking blood or body fluids. Instead it is diagnosed, usually by an experienced psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, after studying a patient’s symptoms and monitoring them over a period of time.

How ICD-10 classifies bipolar affective disorder:

‘A disorder characterized by two or more episodes in which the patient’s mood and activity levels are significantly disturbed, this disturbance consisting on some occasions of an elevation of mood and increased energy and activity (hypomania or mania) and on others of a lowering of mood and decreased energy and activity (depression). ‘

Many different mental illnesses can have overlapping symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell the conditions apart.

To diagnose a mental health condition, psychiatrists in the UK may refer to the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) system. This lists known mental health problems and their symptoms under various sub-categories. It is updated around every 15 years.

Some experts argue that the current system relies too strongly on medical approaches for mental health problems. They say it implies the roots of emotional distress are simply in brain abnormalities and underplay the social and psychological causes of distress.

They argue that this leads to a reliance on anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs despite known significant side-effects and poor evidence of their effectiveness.

Source: BBC

What causes coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is arguably the the UK’s biggest killer. CHD develops when the blood supply to the muscles and tissues of the heart becomes obstructed by the build-up of fatty materials inside the walls of the coronary arteries.


What is coronary heart disease?

Your heart is a pump the size of a fist that sends oxygen-rich blood around your body. The blood travels to the organs of your body through blood vessels known as arteries, and returns to the heart through veins.

Your heart needs its own blood supply to keep working. Heart disease occurs when the arteries that carry this blood, known as coronary arteries, start to become blocked by a build-up of fatty deposits.

How common is CHD?

  • CHD causes round 74,000 deaths each year. That’s an average of 200 people every day
  • In the UK, there are an estimated 2.3 million people living with the condition
  • About one in six men and one in nine women die from the disease
  • Death rates are highest in Scotland and northern England
  • In the past couple of decades, deaths from CHD have nearly halved due to better treatments

Source: British Heart Foundation

The inner lining of the coronary arteries gradually becomes furred with a thick, porridge-like sludge of substances, known as plaques, and formed from cholesterol. This clogging-up process is known as atherosclerosis.

The plaques narrow the arteries and reduce the space through which blood can flow. They can also block nutrients being delivered to the artery walls, which means the arteries lose their elasticity. In turn, this can lead to high blood pressure, which also increases the risk of heart disease. This same process goes on in the arteries throughout the body, and can lead to high blood pressure which puts further strain on the heart.

If your arteries are partially blocked you can experience angina – severe chest pains that can spread across your upper body – as your heart struggles to keep beating on a restricted supply of oxygen. You are also at greater risk of a heart attack.

Some people have a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis due to genetic factors – one clue to this is a family history of heart disease in middle-age. Lifestyle factors that increase the risk include an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, diabetes, high blood pressure and, most importantly, smoking.

However, in the past couple of decades deaths from coronary heart disease have nearly halved, thanks to better treatments.

What happens during a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when one of the coronary arteries becomes completely blocked. This usually happens when a plaque, which is already narrowing an artery, cracks or splits open. This triggers the formation of a blood clot around the plaque, and it is this blood clot that then completely blocks the artery.

With their supply of oxygen completely blocked, the heart muscle and tissue supplied by that artery start to die. Emergency medical intervention is needed to unblock the artery and restore blood flow. This may consist of treatment with drugs to dissolve the clot or thrombus, or a small operation done through the skin and blood vessels to open up the blocked artery.

The outcome of a heart attack hinges on the amount of the muscle that dies before it is corrected. The smaller the area affected, the greater the chance of survival and recovery.

While a heart attack will always cause some permanent damage, some areas may be able to recover if they are not deprived of blood for too long. The sooner a heart attack is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chance of recovery.

Other heart diseases

Other diseases that commonly affect the heart include:

  • Chronic heart failure – CHD is one of the main causes of heart failure. It affects around one million people in the UK, and many more have it but haven’t been formally diagnosed. Here, the heart doesn’t works effectively as a pump, and fluid gathers in the lower limbs and lungs. This causes a variety of symptoms and significantly reduces quality of life.
  • Infection – bacterial infections such as endocarditis are much rarer these days thanks to antibiotics, but can damage the valves of the heart as well as other tissues. Viral infections can damage the heart muscle leading to heart failure, or cause abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Congenital heart disease – a number of defects can develop in the heart as a baby grows in the womb. One example is a hole in the heart, also known as a septal defect. Congenital heart disease may cause abnormal blood flow and put excessive strain on the infant’s heart after it has been born.
  • Cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle that can occur for different reasons, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, viral infection, high alcohol intake and thyroid disease.

Source: BBC


Why you think your phone is vibrating when it is not?

Most of us experience false alarms with phones, and as Tom Stafford explains this happens because it is a common and unavoidable part of healthy brain function.


Sensing phantom phone vibrations is a strangely common experience.Around 80% of us have imagined a phone vibrating in our pockets when it’s actually completely still. Almost 30% of us have also heard non-existent ringing. Are these hallucinations ominous signs of impending madness caused by digital culture?

Not at all. In fact, phantom vibrations and ringing illustrate a fundamental principle in psychology.

You are an example of a perceptual system, just like a fire alarm, an automatic door, or a daffodil bulb that must decide when spring has truly started. Your brain has to make a perceptual judgment about whether the phone in your pocket is really vibrating. And, analogous to a daffodil bulb on a warm February morning, it has to decide whether the incoming signals from the skin near your pocket indicate a true change in the world.

Psychologists use a concept called Signal Detection Theory to guide their thinking about the problem of perceptual judgments. Working though the example of phone vibrations, we can see how this theory explains why they are a common and unavoidable part of healthy mental function.

When your phone is in your pocket, the world is in one of two possible states: the phone is either ringing or not. You also have two possible states of mind: the judgment that the phone is ringing, or the judgment that it isn’t. Obviously you’d like to match these states in the correct way. True vibrations should go with “it’s ringing”, and no vibrations should go with “it’s not ringing”. Signal detection theory calls these faithful matches a “hit” and a “correct rejection”, respectively.

But there are two other possible combinations: you could mismatch true vibrations with “it’s not ringing” (a “miss”); or mismatch the absence of vibrations with “it’s ringing” (a “false alarm”). This second kind of mismatch is what’s going on when you imagine a phantom phone vibration.

For situations where easy judgments can be made, such as deciding if someone says your name in a quiet room, you will probably make perfect matches every time. But when judgments are more difficult – if you have to decide whether someone says your name in a noisy room, or have to evaluate something you’re not skilled at – mismatches will occasionally happen. And these mistakes will be either misses or false alarms.

Alarm ring

Signal detection theory tells us that there are two ways of changing the rate of mismatches. The best way is to alter your sensitivity to the thing you are trying to detect. This would mean setting your phone to a stronger vibration, or maybe placing your phone next to a more sensitive part of your body. (Don’t do both or people will look at you funny.) The second option is to shift your bias so that you are more or less likely to conclude “it’s ringing”, regardless of whether it really is.

Of course, there’s a trade-off to be made. If you don’t mind making more false alarms, you can avoid making so many misses. In other words, you can make sure that you always notice when your phone is ringing, but only at the cost of experiencing more phantom vibrations.

These two features of a perceiving system – sensitivity and bias – are always present and independent of each other. The more sensitive a system is the better, because it is more able to discriminate between true states of the world. But bias doesn’t have an obvious optimum. The appropriate level of bias depends on the relative costs and benefits of different matches and mismatches.

What does that mean in terms of your phone? We can assume that people like to notice when their phone is ringing, and that most people hate missing a call. This means their perceptual systems have adjusted their bias to a level that makes misses unlikely. The unavoidable cost is a raised likelihood of false alarms – of phantom phone vibrations. Sure enough, the same study that reported phantom phone vibrations among nearly 80% of the population also found that these types of mismatches were particularly common among people who scored highest on a novelty-seeking personality test. These people place the highest cost on missing an exciting call.

The trade-off between false alarms and misses also explains why we all have to put up with fire alarms going off when there isn’t a fire. It isn’t that the alarms are badly designed, but rather that they are very sensitive to smoke and heat – and biased to avoid missing a real fire at all costs. The outcome is a rise in the number of false alarms. These are inconvenient, but nowhere near as inconvenient as burning to death in your bed or office. The alarms are designed to err on the side of caution.

All perception is made up of information from the world and biases we have adjusted from experience. Feeling a phantom phone vibration isn’t some kind of pathological hallucination. It simply reflects our near-perfect perceptual systems trying their best in an uncertain and noisy world.

Source: BBC


The living dead: new embalming method aids surgical training

An embalming technique pioneered in Austria that produces near life-like cadavers for medical use is set to improve surgical skills and accelerate the adoption of new surgical techniques and technology.


Using a process developed over several decades, the so-called Thiel soft-fix embalming method retains the body’s natural look and feel.

Skin and muscles remain flexible, allowing the limbs to be moved, while the body’s internal organs are clearly identifiable and respond to the surgeon’s scalpel as if alive.

Conventional methods of preservation using formaldehyde leave the body stiff and fragile, and complicate the understanding of how the body will respond to a particular surgical procedure.

Like any practical skill, practice is crucial to learning surgery.

Continue reading the main story

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The benefits for surgeons are absolutely massive”

Professor Sue BlackForensic anthropolgist, Dundee University

Enabling surgeons to try out a technique on a dead body before operating on a live patient allows surgeons to understand anatomy, minimise potential damage and rehearse the procedure before trying it for real.

“The benefits for surgeons are absolutely massive,” says Sue Black, head of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee University, which recently brought the Thiel technique to the UK.

“There is no doubt surgical skill-sets are incredibly enhanced, while it also allows for innovation,” she says.

Prof Black says patients will benefit from the more rapid adoption of new surgical products and methods.

Until 2006 it was illegal in the UK to practise surgery on cadavers. This meant that surgeons had to practise their skills on synthetic models or the carcasses of animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits and pigs.

Frozen body parts were also used, but they carry a high risk of infection and disintegrate in a day or two.

Prior to 2006, cadavers could be used for dissection but not practising surgery, out of respect for the deceased.

Using animals is never ideal as their anatomy is not always a good match for the human body. Similarly, bodies preserved using formaldehyde, a toxic solution, are never as good as the real thing.

“A formaldehyde-preserved body is not like a real body,” says Dr Lena Vogt, a foot surgeon from Germany.

“It starts with the skin. You just touch it lightly with the scalpel and it falls apart.”

She says that the bodies lack colour and the layers of tissue stick together making it “difficult to decide if [it] is a nerve, an artery or a vein.”

Eureka moment at the butcher’s

Typically, a break is needed every 20 minutes to escape the fumes.

The ones from the Austrian institute which pioneered the technique are far superior, she says.

“They look more like in the operating room. It is close to reality. You have the opportunity to understand the body much better; that helps you do surgery much better. Surgery is all about practice.”

Up until the late 19th century, bodies had been preserved using arsenic, a very toxic poison.

This was replaced with formaldehyde after its discovery in 1867 by German chemist August Wilhem von Hofman.

However, it too is highly toxic and carcinogenic. Its use is restricted in many countries and discouraged by a 2007 EU ruling.

In the early 1960s, an anatomist called Walter Thiel, who was head of the Graz Anatomy Institute in southern Austria, began to look for an alternative.

His starting point was his local butcher’s shop where he noticed that local “wet cured” ham preserved in a solution of salts had a superior texture to the formaldehyde-preserved flesh in his lab.

It took 30 years to perfect, starting with prime cuts of beef, more similar to human flesh than pork according to Thiel, before progressing to whole human bodies.

In all it took at least 1,000 donated bodies to get it right, says Friedrich Anderhuber, the late Prof Thiel’s protégé and successor as head of the institute.

It was a lengthy matter of trial and error. A body would be injected with a preserving fluid and then soaked in the liquid for two years.

It was a matter of finding the right compromise between preserving of one part of the body and another, says Anderhuber.

“If you feel a muscle or a liver of a cadaver, it must feel like a muscle or a liver,” says Anderhuber. The joints and tendons must also move like those of a living body he says, so surgeons can understand how they work.

Thiel eventually settled on a colourless and almost odourless solution of salts, antiseptic boric acid, ethylene glycol, an antifreeze, and a very low level of formaldehyde.

It is so effective in killing bacteria and fungi that it is safe to dissect the body without gloves and the cadavers can be kept at room temperature.

Preservation room

In the basement of the Graz anatomy institute a dozen bodies lying like sardines on a metal rack hauled up from a preservation tank in the cellar are noticeably limp.

Numbered plastic tags are attached to their thumbs, toes and earlobes, so they can be brought together for burial.

These have been in their tanks for a year. Once the soaking process is complete, they are transferred into plastic bags, the subsequent loss of fluid making the flesh more elastic and lifelike.

Altogether the basement houses around 250 bodies at any one time; around a year’s supply for the institute.

In the next room, six newly arrived corpses lie on stainless steel tables. An assistant is shaving one because the hair would turn to slime in the preservation fluid.

The bodies of two elderly men and one woman are mid-preparation, heads propped on sections of blue plastic tubing.

These are jaundiced and slightly swollen from the fluid being fed into blood vessels in the neck and skull.

Each needs around 20 litres (five gallons) of preserving fluid, says Dr Anderhuber. Later, red dye is injected to give the blood vessels and flesh a realistic colour.

Fifty years since Dr Thiel’s first experiments with pieces of steak his method is slowly catching on elsewhere.

According to Dr Anderhuber there is also interest in learning the method from Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ghana, Spain, Switzerland and West India.

Prof Black’s centre in Dundee, the first place to adopt Thiel embalming in the UK, recently used its last formaldehyde-preserved cadaver and will use only Thiel bodies from now on.

It has 11 tanks which can submerge 44 bodies at any one time and rack space for around 100.

The apparently ghoulish art of preserving the dead can help transform surgery to improve and prolong life.

Source: BBC


Talking cigarette packs may help smokers quit.

Cigarette packets that play recorded messages urging smokers to quit have been created by researchers at Stirling University.

The packets play audio clips giving warning messages about the dangers of smoking when they are opened.


The recordings warn of the link between smoking and fertility as well as a helpline number to help quit.

They are said to have worked will during tests carried out on a group of women aged 16 to 24.

The study is set to continue, with tests on bigger groups of males and females, aged 16 and over, about to begin.

Crawford Moodie, part of the team who invented the packs at Stirling University, said: “Tobacco companies may use talking packets in the future as part of marketing.

“This research shows how the idea can be used to promote ‘positive health’ to smokers.”

‘Potential impact’

Sheila Duffy, from anti-smoking charity Ash Scotland, said: “I welcome the suggestion that we get more creative to put forward messages of good health and freedom from addiction as alternatives to tobacco.

“We need accurate research to assess the potential impact of any new packaging ideas on people of all ages.

“This latest research, involving young women who smoked, did not suggest that such packaging innovations made cigarettes more attractive to them.”

Alison Cox, from Cancer Research UK, said her charity had funded the Stirling study in a bid “to see if the marketing tools of the tobacco industry can be used to help smokers quit instead”.

The Scottish government earlier this year pledged to support standardise tobacco packaging, in an effort to help people stop smoking.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson also set a target to reduce the number of smokers in Scotland from 23% to 5% by 2034.

Source: BBC

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‘Protect your baby’

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England, said: “Rotavirus is a highly infectious and unpleasant illness that affects thousands of young children each year.

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The best way to protect your baby from catching rotavirus is to get them vaccinated”

Dr Paul Cosford,Public Health England

“While most recover within a few days, nearly one in five will need to see their doctor, and one in 10 will end up in hospital as a result.”

He added: “Although good hygiene measures can help prevent spread of the disease, the best way to protect your baby from catching rotavirus is to get them vaccinated.

“The new vaccine will provide protection to those young babies who are most vulnerable to complications arising from rotavirus.

“From now on, parents will be offered this protection alongside their baby’s other childhood vaccinations.”

Further new vaccinations against shingles, meningococcal C and flu will be introduced later this year.

Source: BBC

Asthma genetic risk research could lead to future test

Research into the genetic risks for asthma could lead to a test which predicts which children will never grow out of it, says a study in The Lancet.


Scientists found that those at higher genetic risk of asthma were 36% more likely to develop serious, life-long asthma than those with lower risk.

But they said it was too soon to be used as a reliable clinical test.

Asthma UK says the findings could help identify people whose asthma could become severe.

Earlier studies had linked several genes to small increases in asthma risk.

This study, led by researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, identified 15 separate locations in the human genome which are associated with asthma.

Using this knowledge combined with data from a major New Zealand health study of more than 1,000 people since birth, the researchers were able to calculate the genetic risk score for 880 individuals.

They then tracked the development and progression of their asthma from early childhood through to their late 30s.

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Genetic risk prediction for asthma is still in its infancy.”

Dr Daniel BelskyDuke University

Those with higher genetic risk scores were more likely to have severe asthma which continued into adulthood, and they more often developed problems with lung function.

They were also more likely to miss school or work and to be admitted to hospital because of their asthma.

At present, there are no tests that can predict which children will recover as they grow older.

Dr Daniel Belsky, a post-doctoral fellow at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, said it was too early to talk about a predictive test for severe asthma.

“Although our study revealed that genetic risks can help to predict which childhood-onset asthma cases remit and which become life-course-persistent, genetic risk prediction for asthma is still in its infancy.

“As additional risk genes are discovered, the value of genetic assessments is likely to improve.”

He said there was still a long way to go before genetic risk scores could be used routinely in medical practice.

But the study could lead to a better understanding of asthma and how to treat it, he said.

Leanne Reynolds, from the charity Asthma UK, said it was misleading to assume that some children ‘grow out’ of the condition.

“We know that some children with asthma no longer experience symptoms when they reach adulthood, however… the underlying tendency still remains and so symptoms can still return in later life.”

However, she said further research in this area would be welcomed.

“This could mean that in the future we’re able to identify those people whose asthma will put them at greatest risk so we can ensure they get the support they need.”

Source: BBC



Babies to be offered vomiting bug vaccine.

An extra vaccination is to be offered to babies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to protect them against a vomiting and diarrhoea bug.

Rotavirus infection is the most common cause of gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhoea) in children under five._68442595_oralvaccine

Nearly every child currently gets the condition by the time they are five.

But experts hope the oral vaccine, given to babies at two and three months old, will halve the number of cases seen annually.

The bug currently accounts for 130,000 visits to the GP and 13,000 hospital visits for dehydration every year.

Scotland introduced a rotavirus vaccine in May.

‘Protect your baby’

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England, said: “Rotavirus is a highly infectious and unpleasant illness that affects thousands of young children each year.

Continue reading the main story

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The best way to protect your baby from catching rotavirus is to get them vaccinated”

Dr Paul Cosford,Public Health England

“While most recover within a few days, nearly one in five will need to see their doctor, and one in 10 will end up in hospital as a result.”

He added: “Although good hygiene measures can help prevent spread of the disease, the best way to protect your baby from catching rotavirus is to get them vaccinated.

“The new vaccine will provide protection to those young babies who are most vulnerable to complications arising from rotavirus.

“From now on, parents will be offered this protection alongside their baby’s other childhood vaccinations.”

Further new vaccinations against shingles, meningococcal C and flu will be introduced later this year.

Source: BBC

AMs to vote on ‘presumed consent’ organ donation plans.

Wales could become the only UK country with an opt-out organ donation system if politicians vote to change the law.


The Welsh government wants to introduce a system where individuals will be presumed to have consented for their organs to be donated after death unless they have specifically objected.

But opponents want families to be able to stop a donation if their relative did not express an opinion either way.

Ministers want to increase the number of donors for transplant by a quarter.

There has been opposition to the changes from Christian churches and from within the Muslim and Jewish communities.

It would mean a change from the current opt-in system, where would-be donors have to sign a register.

A statement from faith leaders and health professionals – signed by the Archbishop of Wales Dr Barry Morgan and others – calls for a so-called “soft opt-out scheme” in the Human Transplantation Bill.

They say it would give deceased patients’ families a say on donation if their relative had neither opted in or out.

A joint statement says that failure to make changes to the bill would be “inhuman, unfeeling before the suffering of relatives, and a danger to the public trust and support which are necessary for the practice of organ donation to flourish”.

If passed by assembly members on Tuesday, the presumed consent system could come into force by 2015.

The Welsh government hopes legislation will lead to a rise in the numbers of donors.

As currently happens, organs could go to recipients anywhere in the UK, not just in Wales, although evidence from other countries with an opt-out system indicates that the rise is small with around 15 additional donors provided each year and approximately 45 extra organs.

According to the NHS Blood and Transplant service, fewer than 5,000 people die every year in the UK in circumstances that would allow them to donate successfully.

Added to that, when compatibility, organ suitability, location, time scales and consent are taken into account it means that not everyone who wants to donate actually does.

It is estimated there are around 250 people on a waiting list for a transplant at any one time – 33 people in Wales died in 2012/13 whilst waiting.

Health Minister Mark Drakeford told BBC Wales: “The legislation makes it absolutely clear that if you are uncomfortable with being an organ donor you have an absolute right in the simplest way possible to opt out of the system.

Publicise the system

“You put your name on the organ donor register saying you don’t want to be a donor and that is the end of the matter.

“There is nothing to be scared of in this legislation.”

The presumed consent law would apply to over-18s who die in Wales if they have lived in Wales for more than 12 months.

People will be able to sign up to the organ donor register so their wishes will be known if they die outside Wales.


  • The aim of the Bill is to increase the number of organs available from Wales, potentially by 25%
  • On latest figures this would see the number of donors rise from around 65 donors to 80.
  • The average number of transplants anticipated from 15 additional donors would be approximately 26 kidneys, 10 livers, two hearts and four lungs
  • Just over 30% of organs donated in Wales are transplanted into people living in Wales

If the law is changed, ministers will have a duty to publicise the system and almost £8m will be spent over 10 years.

The bill would involve transferring some powers from the UK government to Welsh ministers.

The Kidney Wales Foundation (KWF) has campaigned for a law change on organ donation and described the bill as “progressive law”.

Roy Thomas, KWF chief executive, said: “The Welsh government has seen this bill scrutinised properly and several detailed consultations have been undertaken with the Welsh public.

“This law is further progress and evidence shows it will increase donation rates.”

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland a public consultation is under way about adopting an opt-out system. In Scotland, ministers have said the option was “not completely off the agenda” but they have argued that progress has been made under the current system.

The Department of Health said a taskforce had recommended against moving to an opt-out system for England in 2008.

A spokesman added: “We are working closely with the Welsh government to ensure their policy does not negatively impact on our work to promote voluntary organ donations.”

Source: BBC