Keep calm and carry on

Credit: Twitter

That phrase has become a staple on mugs, aprons, greetings cards and just about anything you care to imagine. Apparently, it was the result of the war-time equivalent of a ‘blue sky thinking session’ only it probably cost far less and didn’t take quite as long.

Originally designed to reassure the general public that things were under control, so don’t worry, just keep on doing what you are doing as normal. Very sound advice at the time, and many have since commented that the advice may have gone a long way to not just avoid civil unrest but actually helped secure victory.

During the 1940s for better, or worse, we didn’t have the internet or social media with the means to send an idea around the world in minutes. Bush House in London’s Aldwich was the closest thing with the BBC World Service doing its very best to keep people in touch and up to date with reliable news.  Today it seems like we cannot escape a continual bombardment of news, opinions, views, and sometimes downright false information pretending to be otherwise.

I am no Luddite, as a student I was always keen to lean about new technologies, and science fiction inspired me in many ways, and of course today many of the things and ideas I read about are now commonplace.

I love the fact that I can have some of the world’s best libraries at my fingertips for a modest subscription. But, like a growing number, I can see how it can be difficult sometimes to differentiate between facts and pseudo facts, sometimes referred to as ‘fake news’.

Take the controversy surrounding Covid vaccination. Let’s be clear about one thing, some people have always had concerns about vaccination, sometimes as a result of personal experience, religious concerns, or just plain needle phobia. Pre-internet we didn’t hear much about what’s now being called ‘vaccine hesitancy’ and of course we were not in the midst of a global pandemic.

The UK actually passed a Vaccination Act in 1853 requiring all children to be vaccinated against smallpox, with fines for parents who refused. There was a massive fall in the deathrate amongst babies as a result of vaccination, but there was still opposition and some even believed that the vaccine actually killed their child. Today, we can say that Smallpox has been eradicated from the planet, the last recoded case being in 1978 and we no longer vaccinate as a matter of routine.

Today we find ourselves facing similar dilemmas to those hundreds of years ago, and they really aren’t that different. We probably just get to hear much more about them. In the 1850’s some people still talked about witchcraft in the same way today people talk about microchips being in the vaccine. My response to all this is quite simple; I’m very honest about the facts. Is there a chance that a vaccine might case a side-effect? Yes, there is a very small chance.

Could that side-effect be very serious, even possibly fatal? Yes, it could in a tiny number of cases. Does vaccination prevent you from developing probable fatal Covid? Yes, in the overwhelming majority of cases it protects you.

If I am not vaccinated and I catch Covid, could it kill me? Yes, it could. The majority of people who succumb to Covid are unvaccinated.  If my local hospital if full of Covid patients and I need an emergency operation, will I be OK? No, to be honest with you if the hospitals are full of Covid patients there might be no room for you. Should I have the vaccine? Yes, you should. It will protect you, and also help to protect those around you.

So, while the world and the airwaves have been full of Covid and the various rights and wrongs of everything from going on holiday to mandatory vaccinations, other people in the medical world have been quietly carrying on as normal and I wanted to share something really remarkable and uplifting with you at this Christmas time.

Some people are born with what we call type 1 diabetes; unlike type 2 diabetes that is generally caused by lifestyle, type 1 is something genetic that you are born with. Usually what happens is during late childhood the body’s own immune system (something we have all be getting to know a lot about recently) starts attacking special cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. We all need insulin because it very cleverly controls the amount of sugar in our blood. Too much or too little sugar can be equally dangerous and possibly fatal.

It was around 100 years ago that the first artificial injection of insulin was given to someone with type 1 diabetes, prior to that someone with diabetes would only live for a year or so. Today people with type 1 inject themselves regularly but they also have to very carefully monitor their own blood sugar level.

Advances in technology mean that very small, and highly accurate, blood sugar monitors are available, but of course these regular blood checks and injections can still be very inconvenient although lifesaving.

So, while the world has been focused on Covid, research has been continuing to try and recreate the cells in the pancreas that get destroyed when the immune system turns on them. A stem cell is a human cell that hasn’t yet grown into whatever it is going to end up as.

So, stem cells might end up as muscle cells, or nerve fibres, or the special cells in the pancreas that control insulin levels. Researchers in the US have managed to grow a stem cell into one that can monitor the sugar levels in our blood and also secrete insulin to keep things perfectly in check. In fact, these artificial created pancreatic stem cells can check blood sugar levels and make insulin adjustments almost every millisecond.

A few patients are now receiving stem cell treatment for type 1 diabetes in the world’s first trial of this approach. In not so many years’ time it is quite likely that regular finger prick tests and insulin injections could be a thing of the past, allowing people borne with this disease to lead a completely normal life free of restrictions.

Last time I mentioned blood pressure, and that it is a good idea to keep an eye on your own readings as an upward trend could be the sign of some underlying condition that might need investigation. In the same way type 2 diabetes is also something that can creep up on us without necessarily ringing any obvious alarm bells.

Throughout this Covid period I have remained very impressed by the continued professionalism of our local pharmacists. Here in Spain, we are very lucky to have a good network of pharmacies that of course do much more then just dispense your prescription. Most major pharmacies offer a range of patient services, such as blood pressure monitoring and blood sugar tests. Some can even test for cholesterol and triglycerides.

Farmacia Riviera, based in the heart of Riviera is one such example of a one-stop shop, with highly professional multi-lingual staff. Even if you regularly check your blood pressure at home every once in a while, it is a good idea to have it checked independently, and if you think you’ve been putting the weight on why not get your blood sugar and lipids checked at the same time?  In these days of uncertainty its nice to know that the vast majority of things are carrying on as normal, and a routine check-up can help put your mind at rest too.

Wishing you a safe, healthy, and happy Christmas.

Dr Marcus Stephan

My views are entirely personal and do not reflect the view or position of any organisation. You should always consult your own medical practitioner regarding any concerns that you may have. Never stop taking any prescribed medication without first checking with your doctor.

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