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App Can Help Non-Doctors Determine Cause of Death

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About 55 million people die each year. Of those deaths, 35 million won't have a cause of death recorded, according to the University of Melbourne. A group of scientists hopes to change that with a new app that will allow non-doctors to record mortality data.

Cause-of-death statistics and other mortality data are vitally important for governments and experts developing public health programs. “Without accurate cause of death information, we can’t monitor disease and injury trends, we can’t keep track of emerging health problems and we don’t have any markers to show us whether programs and policies are actually working," co-creator of the app Alan Lopez said in a press release.

“So if you live in a country where no-one is dying from malaria, then why are you pouring money into malaria-prevention programs? And conversely, if people are dying from lung cancer, why aren’t you investing in tobacco control?”

Unfortunately, the countries most in need of aggressive public health programs are often the same ones lacking good mortality data. Doctors are stretched thin in poor countries, and the deceased may be the least of their concerns.

So why not take that responsibility off their hands? The new cause of death app consists of a simple, 25-minute symptom questionnaire that can be completed without medical training. Village officials, nurses, and family members of the deceased can fill out the survey and upload their results. An algorithm will determine the cause of death and issue a death certificate while capturing pertinent mortality data. The app can also store questionnaire responses until an Internet connection becomes available, which is an important feature in remote villages.

“I just came from Myanmar where every month, rural midwives send pieces of paper on cause of death through the mail,” Lopez told New Scientist. “Now, the idea is that they’ll send that information through tablets instead.”

The app is the product of 10 years’ work by Lopez and his colleagues around the world. The first step was to collect existing mortality data from hospitals in India, the Philippines, Mexico, and Tanzania. They compiled information from 12,500 cases with known causes of death and identified the 34 most common causes of death for adults and the 21 most common for children. The researchers interviewed around 100 families for each cause of death to determine how family members would describe the deceased’s symptoms. Working backward, the scientists created a questionnaire and algorithm that would yield a cause of death. They then built that algorithm into an app and took it to China, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Bangladesh for field-testing. The app proved to be remarkably accurate—even more so than doctors reviewing the same cases.

Lopez and his colleagues hope to roll out the app in 20 countries by next year. They are hopeful that their questionnaire can help communities and governments enact real change.

[h/t New Scientist]

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Why You Might Not Want to Order Tea or Coffee On Your Next Flight
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A cup of tea or coffee at 40,000 feet may sound like a great way to give yourself an extra energy boost during a tiring trip, but it might be healthier to nap away your fatigue—or at least wait until hitting ground to indulge in a caffeine fix. Because, in addition to being tepid and watery, plane brew could be teeming with germs and other harmful life forms, according to Business Insider.

Multiple studies and investigations have taken a closer look at airplane tap water, and the results aren’t pretty—or appetizing. In 2002, The Wall Street Journal conducted a study that looked at water samples taken from 14 different flights from 10 different airlines. Reporters discovered “a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs," they wrote.

And they added, "Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits."

A 2004 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that water supplies on 15 percent of 327 national and international commercial aircrafts were contaminated to varying degrees [PDF]. This all led up to the 2011 Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, an EPA initiative to make airlines clean up. But in 2013, an NBC investigation found that at least one out of every 10 commercial U.S. airplanes still had issues with water contamination.

Find out how airplane water gets so gross, and why turning water into coffee or tea isn’t enough to kill residual germs by watching Business Insider’s video below.

[h/t Business Insider]

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science
Scientists May Have Found the Real Cause of Dyslexia—And a Way to Treat It
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Dyslexia is often described as trying to read letters as they jump around the page. Because of its connections to reading difficulties and trouble in school, the condition is often blamed on the brain. But according to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the so-called learning disability may actually start in the eyes.

As The Guardian reports, a team of French scientists say they've discovered a key physiological difference between the eyes of those with dyslexia and those without it. Our eyes have tiny light-receptor cells called rods and cones. The center of a region called the fovea is dominated by cones, which are also responsible for color perception.

Just as most of us have a dominant hand, most have a dominant eye too, which has more neural connections to the brain. The study of 60 people, divided evenly between those with dyslexia and those without, found that in the eyes of non-dyslexic people, the arrangement of the cones is asymmetrical: The dominant eye has a round, cone-free hole, while the other eye has an unevenly shaped hole. However, in people with dyslexia, both eyes have the same round hole. So when they're looking at something in front of them, such as a page in a book, their eyes perceive exact mirror images, which end up fighting for visual domination in the brain. This could explain why it's sometimes impossible for a dyslexic person to distinguish a "b" from a "d" or an "E" from a "3".

These results challenge previous research that connects dyslexia to cognitive abilities. In a study published earlier this year, people with the condition were found to have a harder time remembering musical notes, faces, and spoken words. In light of the new findings, it's unclear whether this is at the root of dyslexia or if growing up with vision-related reading difficulties affects brain plasticity.

If dyslexia does come down to some misarranged light-receptors in the eye, diagnosing the disorder could be as simple as giving an eye exam. The explanation could also make it easy to treat without invasive surgery. In the study, the authors describe using an LED lamp that blinks faster than the human eye can perceive to "cancel out" one of the mirror images perceived by dyslexic readers, leaving only one true image. The volunteers who read with it called it a "magic lamp." The researchers hope to further experiment with it to see see if it's a viable treatment option for the millions of people living with dyslexia.

[h/t The Guardian]

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