Baby Powder: Killing You Softly?

The Greeks used it to construct building materials. The Romans used it to clean up blood after gladiator contests. King Charlemagne is said to have sprinkled it in with egg whites to keep his hair stiff and glistening on the battlefield, a sort of ancient-school mousse. Yes, talc has been used in one way or another for centuries. Besides being the main ingredient in baby powder, these days talc can be found in everything from flea and tick powders to deodorants, chalk and crayons, soap, and circuit boards. It's used in home insulation material and as filler in paper. Ceramic tiles contain talc, as do paints and even some of that dust you find on certain sticks of chewing gum.

baby powderFor a mineral (pure talc is hydrous magnesium silicate) found in so many products, you'd think it would be as safe as salt. And generally it is. But guess what? Not only is the talc silicate related to deadly asbestos, some talcum powders are sometimes contaminated with asbestos. The result? Lots and lots of studies. The result of all the studies? Mixed.

However, in 1982, Johnson & Johnson admitted that they knew of some of these studies that concluded that woman who frequently applied talc products to their genitals had a three-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer.

(from August 12, 1982 New York Times article).

Talc2Other studies show that, since the 1980s, several thousand infants have died each year, or became seriously ill after accidentally inhaling baby powder. Many scientists have asked the Food and Drug Administration to require talc products to carry warning labels, something the FDA has yet to agree to. While other studies have not proven a link between talc and cancer, to play it safe, many people recommend using a mixture of cornstarch and baking soda as an alternative. Or get your hands on some natural baby powder in a health food store, usually made with things like green clay, tea tree oil and lavender or chamomile.

Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
Bill and Melinda Gates Will Repay Nigeria's $76 Million Polio-Fighting Loan
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

Not long after announcing a $100 million donation to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, Bill and Melinda Gates have agreed to pay off Japan's $76 million loan to Nigeria to stamp out polio, Quartz reports.

Polio has been eradicated in most countries around the world, but it's still present in Nigeria, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2008, according to The Conversation, Nigeria accounted for 86 percent of all polio cases in Africa. This high number was thanks in part to low immunization rates and calls from extremists to boycott polio vaccinations out of fear that they were tainted with anti-fertility steroids.

National and international campaigns were launched to lower polio rates in Nigeria, and in 2014 the nation received the loan from Japan to boost disease-fighting efforts. Progress has been made since then, with no new cases of polio reported in Nigeria in 2017. Two children had contracted polio in 2016, two years after Nigeria's last known case.

Nigeria's loan repayments to Japan were slated to begin in 2018. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation agreed to cover the costs after Nigeria met its goal of "achieving more than 80 percent vaccination coverage in at least one round each year in very high risk areas across 80 percent of the country's local government areas," Quartz reports. The loan will be repaid over the next 20 years.

While the Gates Foundation is lending a hand to Nigeria, the Associated Press reports that health officials in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province recently launched a new chapter in the nation's ongoing struggle against the disease. Health workers will engage in a week-long, door-to-door vaccination campaign, though efforts like this are risky due to threats from the Taliban and other militant groups, who view vaccinations as a Western conspiracy and believe they sterilize children. Anti-polio efforts in Pakistan also suffered after the CIA used vaccinations as a cover to get DNA samples from the Bin Laden compound.

[h/t Quartz]

Aflac's Robotic Duck Comforts Kids with Cancer

Every year, close to 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. That news can be the beginning of a long and draining battle that forces kids and their parents to spend large amounts of time with medical providers, enduring long and sometimes painful treatments. As The Verge reports, a bit of emotional support during that process might soon come from an unlikely source: the Alfac duck.

The supplemental insurance company announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it has partnered with the medical robotics company Sproutel to design and manufacture My Special Aflac Duck, a responsive and emotive sim-bird intended exclusively for children undergoing cancer treatment.

When a child cuddles the fuzzy robotic duck, it can cuddle back. It reacts to being cradled and stroked by quacking or moving its head. Kids can also touch special RFID chips emblazoned with emoji on the duck's chest to tell it how they’re feeling, and the device will mimic those emotions.

But the duck isn’t solely for cuddling. In “IV Mode,” which can be switched on while a child is undergoing IV therapy, the duck can help the user relax by guiding them through breathing exercises. Accessories included with the toy also allow children to "draw blood" from the duck as well as administer medication, a kind of role-playing that may help patients feel more comfortable with their own treatments.

Aflac approached Sproutel with the idea after seeing Sproutel’s Jerry the Bear, a social companion robot intended to support kids with diabetes. Other robotic companions—like the Japanese-made seal Paro and Hasbro's Joy for All companion pets for seniors—have hinted at a new market for robotics that prioritize comfort over entertainment or play.

My Special Aflac Duck isn’t a commercial product and won’t be available for retail sale. Aflac intends to offer it as a gift directly to patients, with the first rollout expected at its own cancer treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia. Mass distribution is planned for later this year.

[h/t The Verge]


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