Only 36pc of population has access to safe drinking water: WHO report

ISLAMABAD: Only 36 percent of the Pakistani population on average, including 41% in urban areas and 32% rural areas, has access to safe drinking water in the country, a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed.

Results of the water-quality monitoring efforts by the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) indicate that 69 to 85% of collected samples of water were contaminated.

The Ministry of Science and Technology has established 24 water-quality monitoring laboratories all over the country to check quality of water on the provided samples, a ministry official told APP.

He said that the poor quality of drinking water has forced a large cross-section of citizens to buy bottled water. As a consequence, a mushrooming of bottled water industry in the country has been witnessed during the last few years.

Many mineral/bottled water companies, however, were found selling contaminated water.

To monitor and improve the quality of bottled water, the government through Ministry of Science and Technology has designated the task to PCRWR for quarterly monitoring of bottled/mineral water brands and publicise the results.

According to the monitoring report for the quarter from July to September, 2017, 104 samples of mineral/bottled water brands have been collected from Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Peshawar, Multan, Lahore, Quetta, Bahawalpur, Tandojam, Karachi and Muzaffarabad.

Comparison of analytical findings with permissible limits of Pakistan Standards & Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) has revealed that 9 brands were found to be unsafe due to chemical and microbiological contaminations.

Out of those unsafe brands, four brands were found to have comparatively high levels of arsenic. Excessive level of arsenic can cause various types of skin diseases, diabetes, kidney diseases, hypertension, heart diseases birth defects, black foot diseases and multiple types of cancers etc.

The rest were found to be unsafe due to microbiological contamination which may cause cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid, etc.

Four arrested for selling drugs to students in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: Four people accused of selling drugs to students of schools and colleges were arrested during an operation in the federal capital, said the police.

According to the police, their Special Investigation Unit carried out an operation in Sector G-9 and Serai Kharbooza, during which the arrests were made.

Heroin and 119 drug pills were seized from the accused, police said. All the four are residents of Islamabad and would sell drugs to students of schools and colleges.

Authorities in the federal capital have cracked down on drug peddlers time and again.

In March this year, over 100 people were arrested for supplying drugs to students since January.

The government had carried out 14 operations after 95 cases against drug peddlers were registered in three months.

During the operations, the authorities seized about 29,723 grammes of hashish, 1,655 grammes of heroin.

On February 9, the Islamabad police apprehended seven suspected drug peddlers, including two students, from various universities and adjoining areas. The students were identified as Waleed Shamim and Zamd-ul-Naas.

The suspects were selling ecstasy and hashish to university students, according to the police. A case was registered against the suspects.

Moreover, Anti-Narcotics Force had arrested the leader of a gang allegedly involved in supplying marijuana, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), and other imported high-end drugs to students of different universities and educational institutions in the federal capital in January.

Early blood test could indicate risk of miscarriage

A blood test in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy could indicate a risk of miscarriage or premature birth, early research suggests.

US doctors believe they have found molecules in the blood that can be linked to serious birth complications, months before symptoms are apparent.

The findings could help doctors take steps to avoid premature birth.

But experts warned against overstating the findings, citing the “small and preliminary” nature of the research.

In the UK, one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage, while Britain has one of the highest rates of premature birth in Europe.

The proposed blood test screens for molecules called microRNA, which are found in blood cells in the placental bed – a thick membrane that lines the uterus during pregnancy.

Predicting problems

The team, from the Laboratory for Reproductive Medicine and Immunology in San Francisco, assessed the microRNA cells’ ability to predict premature birth, pre-eclampsia, and miscarriage during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In total, they looked at 160 births – over a series of four published studies.
The results predicted miscarriage and late pre-eclampsia with about 90% accuracy and premature birth before 34 weeks with about 89% accuracy.

Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition where abnormally high blood pressure and other problems develop during pregnancy.

It affects up to 10% of all first-time pregnancies and often leads to premature birth.
Unlike that of miscarriage, the risk of pre-eclampsia and premature birth can be managed by medical intervention.

The study authors said the test could possibly be used in combination with other established screening tests.

‘Root cause’

Daniel Brison, honorary professor of clinical embryology and stem cell biology at the University of Manchester, said the study was “exciting looking” in a much needed area.
But he added: “Although the results might seem exciting and cutting edge, there is unfortunately a high risk of them being wrong.

“We’d need larger follow-up studies to be sure whether these results are valid.”

Tim Child, associate professor at the University of Oxford and medical director of Oxford Fertility, echoed his concerns but described the research as important.

“Pre-eclampsia, premature birth and miscarriage are significant issues all around the world, so any research is important,” he told BBC News, stressing that “while the number [of cases studies] is very limited, the statistical relationship between the test and the complication is very high.”

He added that he hoped ongoing research would help doctors understand “the root cause” of placental disease.

Italy seizes 50 million euros worth of Daesh ´fighter drug´

ROME: Italian police have seized 50 million euros worth of tablets of a synthetic opiate destined to be sold by Daesh in Libya to raise funds for attacks, a court said Friday.

Financial police discovered over 24 million Tramadol tablets, en route from India to Libya, at the port of Gioia Tauro in southern Italy.

The painkiller has been described as the “fighter drug” as it is known to be popular among militants for its ability to dull pain and suppress fatigue.

The haul is estimated to be worth 50 million euros and was found following a police crackdown sparked by the discovery of a similar shipment in Genoa in May.

Investigators believe Daesh planned to sell the tablets to their foot soldiers for the equivalent of two euros a tablet.

“According to the information shared with foreign investigative sources, the traffic of Tramadol is directly handled by Daesh to finance terrorist activities planned and carried out across the world,” the court of Reggio Calabria said.

Part of the money raised from the sales would also go “to subsidize terrorist groups and extremists operating in Libya, Syria and Iraq,” it said in a statement.

The court said the catch had been possible thanks in part to the DEA, the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

Smog: What role can you play?

Smog continues to obscure Lahore and its surrounding areas. You can do your part to reduce air pollution. Here is how:

Take care of your cars. Get regular tune-ups and change your car’s oil on schedule. Inflating tires to the proper level can improve gas mileage and reduce emissions.

Avoid burning municipal waste.

Plant more trees outdoors. The leaves help catch air pollutants.

Avoid products that release high levels of VOCs. For example, nail polish, perfumes, paint thinner, air fresheners.

Reduce speed and switch on the fog lights to avoid any untoward incident during the haze.

Gut bacteria ‘boost’ cancer therapy

Bacteria living in the murky depths of the digestive system seem to influence whether tumours shrink during cancer therapy, say French and US researchers.

They tested the microbiome – the collection of microscopic species that live in us – in cancer patients.

Two studies, in the journal Science, linked specific species and the overall diversity of the microbiome to the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs.

Experts said the results were fascinating and held a lot of promise.

Our bodies are home to trillions of micro-organisms and the relationship between “us” and “them” goes far beyond infectious diseases.

The microbiome is involved in digestion, protection from infection and regulating the immune system.

Gut bugs ‘help prevent allergies’

Parkinson’s disease ‘may start in gut’

Both studies were on patients receiving immunotherapy, which boosts the body’s own defences to fight tumours.

It does not work in every patient, but in some cases it can clear even terminal cancer.

Survival

One study, at the Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus in Paris, looked at 249 patients with lung or kidney cancer.

They showed those who had taken antibiotics, such as for dental infection, damaged their microbiome and were more likely to see tumours grow while on immunotherapy.

One species of bacteria in particular, Akkermansia muciniphila, was in 69% of patients that did respond compared with just a third of those who did not.

Boosting levels of A. muciniphila in mice seemed to also boost their response to immunotherapy.

Meanwhile, at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 112 patients with advanced melanoma had their microbiome analysed.

Those that responded to therapy tended to have a richer, more diverse microbiome than those that did not.

And they had different bacteria too. High levels of Faecalibacterium and Clostridiales appeared to be beneficial, while Bacteroidales species were bad news in the study.

‘Game-changing’

Tissues samples showed there were more cancer-killing immune cells in the tumour of people with the beneficial bacteria.

The team then performed a trans-poo-sion, a transplant of faecal matter, from people to mice with melanoma.

Mice given bacteria from patients with the “good” mix of bacteria had slower-growing tumours than mice given “bad” bacteria.

Dr Jennifer Wargo, from Texas, told the BBC: “If you disrupt a patient’s microbiome you may impair their ability to respond to cancer treatment.”

She is planning clinical trials aimed at altering the microbiome in tandem with cancer treatment.

She said: “Our hypothesis is if we change to a more favourable microbiome, you just may be able to make patients respond better.

“The microbiome is game-changing, not just cancer but for overall health, it’s definitely going to be a major player.”

Promising

Mark Fielder, president of the Society for Applied Microbiology and professor of medical biology at Kingston University, said the study showed the importance of understanding the micro-organisms that call our bodies home.

He told the BBC: “It’s really interesting and holds a lot of promise, we need to do more work but there are exciting glimmers here in treating some difficult diseases.

“Some claim the microbiome is the answer to everything, I don’t think that’s the case.

“But once we understand more, it could be that microbiome manipulation is important in changing people’s health.”

Dr Emma Smith from Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s fascinating.

“One of the big challenges for using immunotherapies to treat cancer is understanding which patients will respond, and this research is a step towards helping doctors to identify these people.”

Moms-to-be can protect babies from asthma by eating fish: study

ISLAMABAD: Pregnant women who consume two to three servings of fish a week are as likely to protect their newborns from developing asthma, finds a recent study.

Researchers at University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, have found that children whose mothers consume high doses of Omega-3 fatty acids daily during the third trimester are less likely to develop such breathing problems.

The New England Journal of Medicine study included 346 pregnant women in their third trimester who took Omega-3 fatty acids daily and 349 who took a placebo, Health News reported.

The investigators also divided the trial population into three groups based on their blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids.

The population with the lowest blood levels benefited the most from fish oil supplementation.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology randomised pregnant women in their third trimester into fish oil, placebo and “no oil” groups.

The fish oil group took Omega-3 fatty acids daily as did the placebo (olive oil) group.

The “no oil” group was informed of the trial proposal and therefore could consume fish oil or fish during the third trimester if they chose to do so.

The findings indicated that the fish oil and the “no oil” groups took less asthma medication as they aged to 24 years old, inferring both groups developed less asthma.

“Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be synthesised by humans and therefore are essential nutrients which are derived exclusively from marine sources,” said iChen Hsing Lin from University of South Florida. “It may be premature to recommend daily high dose fish oil supplementation during the third trimester.”

A professor at the university, Richard Lockey, said that with almost equal to slightly higher cost, consuming 8-12 ounces (2-3 servings) of fish a week not only may attain the same asthma protection, but strengthens the nutritional benefits to infant growth and development.

Just a few nights of bad sleep upsets your brain

Thanks to the clocks going back, many of us managed to grab a little bit of extra shut-eye over the weekend.

And that’s no bad thing because, as a country, we seem to be chronically sleep-deprived. According to the Sleep Council, the average Briton gets six-and-a-half hours sleep a night, which for most people is not enough.

Lots of studies have shown that cutting back on sleep, deliberately or otherwise, can have a serious impact on our bodies.

A few nights of bad sleep can really mess with our blood sugar control and encourage us to overeat. It even messes with our DNA.

A few years ago, Trust Me I’m a Doctor did an experiment with Surrey University, asking volunteers to cut down on their sleep by an hour a night for a week.

Dr Simon Archer, who helped run the experiment, found that getting an hour’s less sleep a night affected the activity of a wide range of our volunteers’ genes (around 500 in all) including some which are associated with inflammation and diabetes.

Disturbed nights

So the negative effects on our bodies of sleep deprivation are clear. But what effect does lack of sleep have on our mental health?

To find out Trust Me teamed up with sleep scientists at the University of Oxford to run a small experiment.

This time, we recruited four volunteers who normally sleep soundly. We fitted them with devices to accurately monitor their sleep and then, for the first three nights of our study, let them get a full, undisturbed eight hours.

For the next three nights, however, we restricted their sleep to just four hours.

Each day our volunteers filled in a psychological questionnaire designed to reveal any changes in their mood or emotions. They also kept video diaries. So what happened?

Sarah Reeve, a doctoral student who ran the experiment for us was surprised by how quickly their mood changed.

“There were increases in anxiety, depression and stress, also increases in paranoia and feelings of mistrust about other people”, she said.

“Given that this happened after only three nights of sleep deprivation, that is pretty impressive.”

Three of our four volunteers found the experience unpleasant, but one of them – Josh – claimed to be largely unaffected.

“This week probably hasn’t taken as much of a toll as I thought it would on me,” he said. “I feel perfectly fine – not happy, sad, stressed or anything.”

Yet the tests we did on him showed something very different.

His positive emotions fell sharply after two nights of disturbed sleep, while negative emotions began to rise.

So even though he felt OK there were signs that he was, mentally, beginning to suffer.

‘Stuck’ in negative thoughts

The outcome of our small test reflects the results of a much bigger study looking at the impact of sleep deprivation on the mental health of students.

Researchers recruited more than 3,700 university students from across the UK who had reported problems sleeping and randomised them into two groups.

One group received six sessions of online CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) aimed at improving their sleep; the other group got standard advice.

Ten weeks into the study, the students who received CBT reported a halving in rates of insomnia, accompanied by significant improvements in scores for depression and anxiety, plus big reductions in paranoia and hallucinations.

This is thought to be the largest ever randomised controlled trial of a psychological treatment for mental health, and it strongly suggests that insomnia can cause mental health problems rather than simply be a consequence of them.

Daniel Freeman, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, who led that study thinks one of the reasons why sleep deprivation is so bad for our brains is because it encourages repetitive negative thinking.

“We have more negative thoughts when we’re sleep-deprived and we get stuck in them,” he said.

Reassuringly he doesn’t think a few nights of bad sleep means you will become mentally ill. But he does think it increases the risk.

“It’s certainly not inevitable,” he said. “In any one night, one in three people is having difficulty sleeping, perhaps 5% to 10% of the general population has insomnia, and many people get on with their lives and they cope with it. But it does raise the risk of a whole range of mental health difficulties.”

The positive side of this research is it implies that helping people get a good night’s sleep will go a long way to helping improve our sense of well-being.

Norbert Schwarz, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, has even put a figure on it.

He claims: “Making $60,000 (£48,400) more in annual income has less of an effect on your daily happiness than getting one extra hour of sleep a night.”
So, sleep well.

Trust Me I’m a Doctor – Mental Health Special is on BBC2 at 21:00 GMT on Wednesday 1 November .

Risk of irregular heart rhythm rises with weight and age

The risk of developing an irregular heart rhythm increases as people age and become overweight or obese, spiking after age 50 for men and age 60 for women, a recent study suggests.

Researchers examined data on almost 80,000 people, ages 24 to 97, in four European studies. When they joined the studies, none of the participants had atrial fibrillation.

After following half of the participants for at least 13 years – and some of them for nearly 28 years – researchers found that 4.4% of the women and 6.4% of the men had developed atrial fibrillation. Compared to people who didn’t develop atrial fibrillation, those who did had a tripled risk of dying during the study period, researchers report in Circulation.

Excess weight explained most of the increased risk with atrial fibrillation, said study author Dr. Christina Magnussen of the University Heart Center Hamburg in Germany.

“For each additional 10 pounds, the atrial fibrillation rate increases by 31% in men and by 18% in women,” Magnussen said by email. “As (weight) is a modifiable risk factor, we advise weight reduction for both women and men.”

In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart, or atria, quiver instead of beating to move blood effectively.

Few people developed atrial fibrillation before age 50, the study found.

By age 90, roughly one in four men and women had the condition.

High cholesterol didn’t appear to increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. In fact, the opposite held true, especially for women.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how specific risk factors like high cholesterol or obesity might increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. Some people also might have had undiagnosed atrial fibrillation when they joined the study.

Even so, the results add to the evidence that the risk of atrial fibrillation decreases with weight loss, said Dr. Jonathan C. Hsu, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“As the body ages or gains weight, inflammatory molecules may be released into the blood,” Hsu said by email. “This type of inflammation may affect the heart and increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.”

Both men and women can reduce their odds of heart problems such as atrial fibrillation by improving their overall health and losing weight, Hsu added.

“Prior studies have shown that the lifetime risk of developing atrial fibrillation is one in four, with increasing age, elevated blood pressure, obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption being major risk factors, said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“This study further highlights that maintaining a healthy body weight and blood pressure, and not smoking, can substantially lower the risk of developing atrial fibrillation,” Fonarow said by email.

Karachi hospital houses machine treating most types of cancer

Cancers of most types can now be treated under one roof using a machine employing latest technology, Professor Dr Sattar Hashim, the Head of Hashim Memorial Trust, told ibc News.

According to the neurosurgeon, the machine called Synergy-S or Linac-Based SRS is dedicated for both intra-cranial and extra cranial application. It is an image-guided, robotic linear accelerator and provides image-guided radiation surgery (IGRS) and image-guided radiation therapy( IGRT). The machine has maximum accuracy in advanced stereotactic radio surgeries.

The types of cancers and tumours which can be treated by this machine include spinal, lung, bladder, rectal, uterine, prostate, breast cancer, cervical cancer, brain tumours and liver tumours, among others.

Stereotactic radio-surgery is an excellent treatment modality for patients who are medically inoperable, including children, as well as people of all ages. It is also preferred for those who require pre-radiation, meaning those who have already been treated with conventional radiotherapy, Dr Hashim said.

Dr Azhar Rashid, another neurosurgeon and among the few experts treating patients using Synergy-S machine, said that patients from all over Pakistan and neighbouring regions with various indications have been treated by the Gamma Knife and Synergy-S machine. A multi-disciplinary team of neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, radiologists and physicists decide the treatment plan for the patient after having all necessary work done.