Short Takes and Quick Consults- March 23, 2010

Former The View co-host Star Jones, is recovering from cardiac surgery performed over the weekend. According to her representative:

“On Wednesday, March 17th, a pre-planned cardiac surgery was performed on Star Jones. This recent surgery is a follow-up to the thoracic surgery she had 30 years ago. The procedure was successful and she is recovering well with her family. Star is grateful for everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”

Jones, 47, reportedly underwent surgery 3o years ago to remove a thoracic tumor.  As it was not reported what kind of tumor was removed, or what was being done in the current procedure,  it is impossible to comment further on the case. We will update this report if more details are released. Jones underwent gastric bypass in 2003, and lost 160 pounds. (See our post about gastric banding procedures here.)

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) was admitted to an Atlanta hospital Monday. The 65- year-old “junior” senator from Georgia  was feeling ill and dehydrated on Monday before being admitted to Northside Hospital. Physicians believe the Senator may be suffering from a bacterial infection. Spokeswoman Joan Kirchner reported:

“Senator Isakson is responding very well to the treatment and is feeling much better. He met this morning with his Senate chief of staff at the hospital and hopes to be back at work soon.”

Although bacteria and viruses can both cause infections, there are some major differences between them. Bacteria are living things that have only one cell. Under a microscope, they look like balls, rods or spirals.  Most bacteria are not harmful – less than 1 percent will cause illness. In fact, any are helpful, aiding in food digestion, destroying  disease-causing cells and giving the body needed vitamins.

But infectious bacteria can make you ill by reproducing quickly. Some can produce chemicals called toxins, which causes tissue damage. Examples of bacteria that cause infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli.

Antibiotics are the usual treatment. However antibiotics should be given judiciously as each time they are taken, you increase the chances that the bacteria in your body will become resistant to that antibiotic.

Most bacteria will cause a localized infection, such as strep throat, pneumonia, or urinary tract infection. However, sometimes the bacteria get into the bloodstream, which is called bacteremia. If the number of bacteria is small, the body’s immune system will take care of it.  However, if the number is higher or if the organism is more virulent (likely to cause disease), then the patient has sepsis, or septicemia.  Septicemia can begin with spiking fevers, chills, rapid breathing, and rapid heart rate. The person looks very ill.

The symptoms can rapidly progress to shock with fever or decreased body temperature (hypothermia), falling blood pressure, confusion or other changes in mental status, and blood clotting problems. Low blood pressure can lead to organ shut down, such as kidney and liver failure.

Treatment requires hospitalization, often in an intensive care unit.  Fluids and medicines are given by an IV to maintain the blood pressure. Oxygen will be given. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection. Plasma or other blood products may be given to correct any clotting abnormalities.

Viruses are capsules with genetic material inside. They are very tiny, much smaller than bacteria. Viruses cause familiar infectious diseases such as the common cold, flu and warts. They also cause severe illnesses such as AIDS, smallpox and hepatitis.

Viruses are like hijackers. They invade living, normal cells and use those cells to multiply and produce other viruses like themselves. This eventually kills the cells, which can make you sick.

Viral infections are hard to treat because viruses live inside your body’s cells. They are “protected” from medicines, which usually move through your bloodstream. Antibiotics do not work for viral infections. A few antiviral medicines are available, such as acyclovir and Tamiflu. Vaccines can help prevent many viral diseases, such as measles, mumps, chickenpox and hepatitis A and B.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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