Why the BP Oil Spill is Hard to Fix

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been gushing its toxic crude into the ocean for over two months despite BP’s focused efforts to bring it under control. Occurring at an unprecedented depth of 1,500 meters (5000 feet) below the sea, the BP oil spill lies in the ocean’s Bathypelagic, or Midnight Zone. This great depth poses several challenges which have made oil containment difficult.

A Deep Sea Oil Spill Response

The incredible depth of the BP oil spill makes direct human intervention impossible. SCUBA divers cannot go down and simply patch up the broken oil well due to the freezing temperatures and crushing pressures occurring in the ocean’s Midnight Zone. Temperatures at this depth hover at a constant 4 °C (39 °F) and the pressure at 1,500 meters is roughly 2200 pounds per square inch*. Consider applying one ton of force to every square inch of the body – it is certainly enough to crush a person. Adding to the difficulties, the aptly named Midnight Zone is pitch black as sunlight simply does not filter down to these depths.

* Calculating PSI: 5000 feet* 0.445 lbs per foot of depth = 2225 PSI

Oil Spill Response Equipment: Robots

Since the BP oil spill is happening in a place humans can’t reach in person, robots are sent instead. However, according to CNN’s John D. Sutter in “Deep-sea mysteries: Why drilling in ‘inner space’ tests human limits”, robots present a few challenges of their own. First, the oil containment robots BP is using were designed to support drilling operations – not repair blowouts. Second, these robots simply do not have the dexterity humans do. According to Sutter, simple tasks such as attaching a nut to a bolt would take a human a few seconds – but would take a robot about 30 minutes.

Finally, the robots are operated through cables that are miles long. This restricts the robots’ movements. It also means it can take hours to bring the robots up to the boat and send them back down again. Compared to space exploring robots, the oil spill responders have it hard. Sutter notes that robots in space could send back signals to Earth via low-power radio frequencies. Sending signals through water however is difficult – hence the bulky cables.

Oil Spill Containment At Last?

According to The Washington Post article “Oil leak is stopped for first time since April 20 blowout” (Joel Achenbach), BP has finally stopped the flow of oil. However, the well must still be monitored carefully and pressure readings must be taken to ensure there are no leaks. This requires further use of video carrying robots looking for leaks. It is also important to note that even with the well shut, the oil spill will continue to affect the marine environment for years to come.


Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): Dealing with Inflammation and Infection of the Reproductive Organs

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is a broad term for infection of one or more of the female reproductive organs – the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It is relatively common, according to NHS Direct, affecting one in 50 women. It is caused by an excessive growth of bacterium in the vagina, and is sexually transmitted in most cases. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are common culprits*.

In some cases, bacterial infection is introduced to the vagina during medical procedures such as abortion, gynaecological examinations, fitting a coil, or as a result of miscarriage or childbirth. The bacterium live in the vagina and slowly travel upwards to infect the reproductive organs. This can lead to the development of cysts, which will need to be removed. The movement of bacterium can take a while, which is why a woman may have no symptoms for a while after being infected.

Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Part of the problem with PID is that symptoms can be mild, and a woman may not realise she has it until it is picked up during routine testing. Ask your doctor to check things out if you have recurrent stomach, pelvic or lower back pain, or vaginal discharge of any kind. An bacterial infection can spread quickly and make you feel quite ill so seek medical help if you have any of the following common symptoms: –

  • Recurrent pelvic, stomach, rectal or lower back pain.
  • Feeling sick.
  • Developing a fever.
  • Heavy periods and spotting blood between periods.
  • Constant tiredness.
  • Vaginal discharge.

Diagnosing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Your doctor will do several tests to determine what the infection is. These include swab testing, which involves taking a sample of any discharge for lab analysis. Blood and urine tests may also required. If the infection cannot be identified, a laparoscopy may be required to examine the internal reproductive organs.

Treating Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

If left untreated PID can damage the fallopian tubes and affect fertility so treatment needs to be prompt. The NHS explains that even a few days can make a difference in terms of the amount of scarring to the fallopian tubes. If your symptoms are mild or come and go, have a check-up to make sure everything is okay. If PID is diagnosed, antibiotics (Ofloxacin, Metronidazole, or Doxycycline) are usually prescribed, which should clear up the infection and inflammation within 1-2 weeks. Even if you feel better after a few days, you need to finish the course of antibiotics to avoid recurrent infection. Painkillers will help ease any chronic pelvic pain, if required.

During treatment, you need to rest and look after yourself. Eat a balanced diet and abstain from sex until the infection has cleared up.

In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove abscesses and/or the fallopian tube(s), if the damage cannot be reversed. This is a process called Salpingectomy.

As Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is usually sexually transmitted, you will need to inform any recent sexual partners so they can be tested and treated, if necessary.

Preventing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

To help prevent vaginal infections and PID it is important to have regular sexual health checks to identify any problems early on. Practise safe sex and use condoms with new sexual partners. If you are using the coil as a contraceptive method, your doctor may advise that you review this, as the coil can be an irritant and cause of PID.

PID is a serious health issue that requires prompt treatment. In most cases, antibiotics will clear up any infection and inflammation within two weeks’. Even if your symptoms are mild, always seek medical advice from your doctor or local sexual health clinic.

Sexual Health Resources

*Chlamydia is responsible for 75% of cases of PID, followed by Gonorrhoea (14% of cases) NHS Direct, accessed 30th August.

Women’s Health Handbook, by Dr Miriam Stoppard, Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 07513 1434 X.

Probiotics and Young Children: Research Proves Reduced Upper Respiratory Symptoms

Do not think that all bacteria are disease-producing. Friendly bacteria live in the digestive tract and help our bodies run smoothly by enhancing the immune system, fighting off bad bacteria, and promoting good digestion. Probiotics are products that contain live, friendly bacteria, similar to natural bacteria found in our bodies. Probiotics are most popular in supplements and food – with an explosion of new items on the market.

The two most common probiotic groups (genera) are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each group has many species, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, and there are numerous strains. Probiotics are safe for adults and children, as they already naturally reside in our bodies.

Probiotics Reduces Kids’ Cold Symptoms

Published in the online journal Pediatrics, a study found that cold and flu symptoms decreased in young children, ages three to five, who took either a single probiotic or a combination of probiotics. Furthermore, the single or multiple probiotic use reduced the amount of time on antibiotics (compared to a placebo group) by 68 percent and 84 percent respectively, and missed daycare days declined. The study involved 326 healthy kids, dosed twice a day for six months.

Relative to the placebo, the single probiotic, Lactobacillus acidophilus (strain NCFM), compared to the multiple probiotic, L. acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium animalis (subspecies lactis Bi-07), resulted in the latter twosome combination producing more dramatic results.

  • Fevers diminished by 53 percent compared to 73 percent.
  • Coughing lessened 41 percent versus 62 percent.
  • Rhinorrhea (excessive mucous) decreased 28 percent compared to 59 percent.

Upper Respiratory Infection Risk Decreased

Reported in the e-publication of Clinical Nutrition, a study found that Lactobacillus GG produced remarkable results in reducing upper respiratory infections in daycare center children. Viruses cause upper respiratory infections, and include such symptoms as sore throat, cough, runny nose and headache.

For three months, 281 kids (in a placebo or testing group) drank either regular milk or milk containing the probiotic Lactobacillus GG. Those in the testing group showed a significantly reduced risk of upper respiratory infection and for infection lasting longer than three days.

A Flood of Probiotic Products for Young Children

It is important to read probiotic labels and determine just what gains the brands claim, such as diarrhea relief, less respiratory problems, general immune support or tame tummies. Here is a sampling of products:

  • Nature’s Way’s seven-strain powder – Primadophilus for Children (ages 0-5)
  • Sedona Labs’ six-strain powder – iFlora Probiotic for Kids
  • Amerifit Brands’ Lactobacillus GG packets– Culturelle for Kids
  • Stonyfield Farm’s six-strain organic yogurt – YoBaby and YoKids

Probiotics are Healthy and Safe for Kids

Probiotics are relatively new products marketed as supplements or added to food that hold promise for kids’ – and adults’ – healthy wellbeing. Many people know from experience that probiotics promote healthy living. Scientific research is ongoing and will confirm or deny the assertions of gastrointestinal, immune and respiratory support.

This is an educational article only. Consult your health care professional for medical advice.

What Is the Pupil and How Does It Change Size? How Your Eyes and Brain Control Light Intensity on Your Retina

Nerve responses and specialized structures control the aperture that regulates the amount of light that enters the eye and falls on the photoreceptors.

The eye is the brain’s window on the world, the first portal to the processes associated with vision. And similar to cameras and taking pictures, either too much or too little light can lead to images that lack for detail, display distorted coloration, and generate lower resolution images than desired. The eye has a specialized structure at its anterior (front) end, the pupil, which plays a critical role in maximizing visual inputs.

The Eye and Refraction of Light

The front part of the eye is most involved in the process of refraction of light. That is, the structures of the anterior segment of the eye are most involved in the process of bending (refracting) light so that the images will focus on the retina, the light-sensitive and sensing structure in the posterior (rear) of the eye. The front part of the eyeball, or globe, contains the cornea, the anterior and posterior chambers, the iris (the visibly colored circle in the front of the eye), the ciliary bodies, the lens, and the pupil.

What Is the Pupil?

Most simply, the pupil is an aperture, an opening. In this case, it is the opening through the iris that lets light pass to and through the ocular lens and onward towards the retina. The pupil is the dark spot in the center of the iris. It appears dark because light that enters the eye is absorbed by the internal structures of the eye and doesn’t reflect back through the pupil.

What Controls the Pupil?

The size of the opening through the iris, known as the pupil, is controlled in response to contraction and relaxation of the different muscles that are part of the iris. The dilation (widening) or constriction (narrowing) depends on numerous signals in a circuit that involves the pupillary muscles, the retinal ganglion cells, the optic nerve (the second cranial nerve, CN II), regions of the brain and brainstem and the oculomotor nerve (the third cranial nerve, CN III).

How Does Pupil Size Change?

When light shines into the eye, the signals from the retina travel to the higher centers of the brain for the processing of visual input. But when it comes to constricting the pupil, neural signals exit the retina and then pass through a different circuit that goes to deeper, older structures of the brain and a signal goes back out through a different nerve back to specific muscles of the iris, the sphincter pupillae, causing them to constrict, narrowing the pupil. This is known as the pupillary reflex. It can not be consciously controlled and serves as a useful indicator of neural function through specific parts of the brainstem. More importantly, this reflex is “consensual”; that is if light is shone specifically into one eye, the pupil of the other eye will constrict right along with the pupil that is being illuminated.

There are another set of muscles in the iris that are known as the dilator pupillae. When these muscles are activated, via a different neural pathway than the sphincter pupillae muscles, the pupil will dilate. Both the constricting and dilating pathways are themselves countered by other neural signals that can inhibit their action. Ultimately, the size of the pupil is determined by the intensity of contraction of the different muscles, regulated by both their positive and negative signals.

Drugs That Change Pupil Size

When someone has a dilated exam at the eye doctor, specific drugs are used that block the action of the muscles controlling pupillary constriction. This aids in the examination of the eye and its internal structures. So drugs like tropicamide, phenylephrine and atropine can cause dilation of the pupil, but so can cocaine, amphetamines and other illicit drugs. Constriction of the pupil can be caused by drugs such as pilocarpine or neostigmine, but can also be caused by drugs of abuse such as heroin or morphine.

In everyday use, the pupil changes size in response to ambient illumination. A lot of light and the pupil constricts to help with visual acuity and keep the light sensing cells of the retina from getting “overexposed”. When it is dark out or a person is in a dimly lit room, the pupil dilates to allow as much light as possible to enter the eye. A remarkably involved system for something that seems so simple.

To learn more about the eye, visit the interactive eye diagram at the US National Eye Institute