This Week in Health Crises: 'River Blindness', a New Flu, and the FDA's Tylenol WarningS

The world is not a safe place. You are, we trust, already doing what you can to protect yourself against the regular flu, but while you've been washing your hands until the skin on your knuckles begins to crack, the flu has been busy reinventing itself.

A new strain of norovirus is causing intestinal illness outbreaks across the country, the CDC confirmed today. CDC officials also reported a rise in outbreaks of sickness caused by drinking raw milk.

The findings appear in the Jan. 25 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Are you drinking raw milk? Did it cure your allergies and eczema, or did it kill you?

If you have not yet died from your raw milk habit but you are trying to treat your flu symptoms, be sure not to ruin your liver in so doing.

Fathia Gibril, M.D., M.HSc., a supervisory medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), explains that consumers looking for relief from a cold or the flu may not know that acetaminophen comes in combination with many other medications used to treat those symptoms. "So if you're taking more than one medicine at a time," she says, "you may be putting yourself at risk for liver damage."

Symptoms of acetaminophen overdose may take many days to appear, and even when they become apparent, they may mimic flu or cold symptoms.

"With over 600 medicines containing this drug," a related article in Forbes points out, "it is pretty easy for people to inadvertently take daily doses of it in excess of the recommended 3,000 mg/day threshold."

And this morning, CNN ran a terrific, in-depth look at recent efforts to eradicate "river blindness," or onchocerciasis, an affliction that gives Dracunculiasis a run for its money as the most painful skin disease ever.

Unlike malaria, river blindness is not fatal, but it causes a "miserable life," said Moses Katabarwa, senior epidemiologist for the Atlanta-based Carter Center's River Blindness Program, which has been leading an effort to eliminate the disease in the Americas and several African countries.
Some strains cause blindness, while others come with more severe skin disease. With time, generally all strains of the disease can lead to rough "lizard" skin, depigmented "leopard skin" and hanging groins. Another big problem among patients is itching, which happens when the worms die inside a person.

Many of these patients go blind after the disease attacks the optic nerve; some of them see their skin harden to such a degree that needles cannot penetrate it.

The World Health Organization believes that around 18 million people suffer from river blindness; there are 18 million people in the world who, when they itch, know it is not a temporary affliction; it is happening because there are dead worms inside of them.

Before you go to sleep tonight, hug someone tenderly.

[Image via AP]