Science news

There’s a glimmer of hope in the struggle against prescription drug abuse.  For the first time, the number of overdose deaths from painkillers has gone down in King County. It’s also fallen statewide.

Unfortunately, people hooked on painkillers may be turning to heroin. Heroin abuse used to be confined to Washington's cities -- primarily Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Everett. Now, it's appearing for the first time in small towns and rural areas.

KPLU's complete report.

Tom Paulson / Humanosphere

There’s a big push going on right now to expand the scope of the global health agenda, to include many non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer.

One of the world's best-known thinkers about global climate change is Australian writer Tim Flannery. He's not only a best-selling author, he's also his country's first Chief Commissioner for Climate Change.

His latest book, Here on Earth: a Natural History of the Planet, paints a hopeful picture of the future of human life on earth. He recently gave a talk in Seattle, where he said his message of optimism seemed to have trouble getting through to his audience.

KPLU's Bellamy Pailthorp caught up with him for an interview.

University of Washington / U of W

Its scientific name is Amorphophallus Titanum, but its most commonly known as a corpse flower.  And it could bloom any day now in the University of Washington's botany green house.

Thirty years ago this month, the first cases of AIDS were identified by the medical community. It was still a mystery disease. A strange form of pneumonia was striking young men in Los Angeles. Since then, the epidemic has been a dramatic roller-coaster of death, disease, politics and what some people call the greatest medical success story of the past half century. 

(This interactive timeline is from the federal website. Click and scroll for dates and highlights.)

I sat down with Dr. Bob Wood, one of the most prominent local faces of AIDS and the fight to contain it, to discuss the highlights and low points. You can listen to the interview by clicking on "Audio."

Sarel Fleishman / U.W.

Seattle researchers have created a new way to fight the flu virus, and potentially pave the way for a new class of medicines.

You probably remember how the flu pandemic two years ago eventually included such a scramble to get the vaccine that people stood in long lines -- and even lied about the ages of their children to get it earlier. It takes months to make influenza vaccine, which has to be grown in chicken eggs. And every year the whole process has to start over, as the virus keeps mutating and evolving. 

woodleywonderworks / Flickr

The Johnston Ridge Observatory opens Saturday at Mount St. Helens with some new displays to tell visitors the story of the volcano's big 1980 eruption.

The Daily News of Longview reports $1.6 million worth of improvements and enhancements have been made. When the Forest Service and Mount St. Helens Institute discussed them Tuesday, the center of attention was a touch-screen kiosk.


Marijuana dispensaries say their legal situation is actually getting worse now that Governor Chris Gregoire has vetoed most of the medical marijuana bill.  The legal gray area they’ve been using since 1999 as a justification for opening co-ops and storefront shops will be eliminated when the law takes effect in July. 

Justin Steyer / KPLU

We hope you figured out long ago that the title of KPLU's "Can Seattle Save the World? (Poverty, Health and Chocolate)" event was tongue-firmly-in-cheek, but also meant to raise some important questions. There's a serious debate about the meaning and priority of "health" in "global health."

The event itself, last Tuesday, proved so popular that we moved it to a room three times larger than originally planned -- and nearly packed the room. Not to toot our horn too much, but immediate feedback was enthusiastic. "Do it again," was the most common response.

We'd love to. In the meantime, we are belatedly offering a replay -- video from the event.

Read More:

angelocesare / Flickr

Maybe you had your first sip of wine or beer at home, with your parents. Or maybe it was with friends, in shadowy circumstances. Either way, did it matter in the long run?   

The latest research suggests parents drinking with their teens leads to problems. Teenagers are more likely to abuse alcohol and hurt themselves if their parents introduce them to alcohol than if parents have a zero-tolerance policy at home. 

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The effort to reduce obesity is taking aim once again at sugary drinks.  A coalition of health groups is asking the public to try-out “Soda-Free Sundays.”

There’s pretty solid evidence Americans, on average, are drinking a lot more soft drinks and other sweetened beverages than they did a generation ago.  Back in the 1990’s, for example, soft drink sales surpassed milk.

Mars Desert Research Station

Despite having to endure a broken toilet, lousy food and fifteen days in a cramped research station in the Utah desert, a Boeing engineer says she's still enthusiastic about one day making a trip to Mars.

Photo courtesy of HealthPoint

Health clinics that cater to low-income people have been expanding.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. / AP

Even though the damaged nuclear reactors continue to cause problems in Japan, the amount of radiation reaching the Pacific coast is dropping.

Public health officials say the radiation threat has been more psychological than physical. They're proud of how they've responded to the nuclear power plant crisis in Japan. 

Elaine / Picasa

If you're game for an Olympic National Park hike of five to 20 miles and eager to go count housecat-sized rodents, the park wants you for its "citizen science" marmot monitoring program.

Health insurance rates are going up and policies are changing for many people who have an individual plan or work at a small business. Those increases can be maddening and mystifying.

Woodland Park Zoo

The howls of a new yearling wolf pack can be heard at the Woodland Park Zoo this spring. The 4 female gray wolves were born at the New York State Zoo and arrived in Seattle last fall. Until now, they've been secluded from public view, getting used to their new surroundings in the Northern Trail exhibit.

Ready, set, walk!

Apr 6, 2011
Paula Wissel

How about going out for a stroll? Today is National Start Walking Day.  The American Heart Association, which sponsors the day,  says taking just 10 minutes three times a day to walk will help you live longer.

Several hundred people turned out at Seattle city hall to kick off Start Walking Day by taking a 30 minute walk around downtown. Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine led the way.

Dean Forbes / FHCRC

Whether or not to take hormones has become one of life’s difficult choices as women face menopause, and look for ways to relieve the symptoms. A new study suggests women may be able to minimize the risks if they start in their 50’s.

It also shows negative effects appear more common for women if they take estrogen after age 60.

Courtesy Ecola Architects, PC

If you’re near the coastline and a major earthquake strikes, the advice as always is to scramble for higher ground. But sometimes, high ground is far away. For example, if you’re in Ocean Shores or Seaside, Ore., the best option could be to head for the rooftop of a sturdy building, if there is one.

In Westport, and communities along the Northwest coast,  the horrible and gripping images of destruction from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are still top-of-mind. In this fishing and beach resort town, retiree Linda Orgel is one of hundreds of coastal residents spurred to become better prepared. That interest is being channeled into planning and design meetings for a possible string of manmade refuge towers.


In a bipartisan push to bring the retired Space Shuttle to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington's U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with the state's entire congressional delegation, have sent a a letter to Charles F. Bolden, the Administrator of NASA, urging him to select the museum as the home for the retired NASA Space Shuttle Orbiter.

In the letter, the delegation says:


Earthquake scientists are hoping to build an early-warning system for Washington, Oregon and California.  It would give typically about five to 30 seconds of notice that a big quake was starting. The scientists have been meeting this week to craft a proposal. 

There’s no way to predict earthquakes. But once a big one starts, it sends out different kinds of shock waves that move at different speeds. One type is fast-moving, but barely perceptible. These are called P-waves. They arrive before the slow traveling but damaging shock waves (called S-waves).  

So, if you have precise sensors, they can detect the fast-moving waves and send out alarms. 

Matt McGee / Flickr

How much income will you need to be financially secure after age 65?  It’s often hard to know. A new study shows what it costs for the elderly in Washington to live at home and stay out of debt.  

Rob Gipman, Uganda Program on Cancer and Infectious Diseases / FHCRC

The fight against diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis has made Seattle a center for global health. 

Now, increasingly, the battle is including cancer -- which might seem ridiculously impossible.  Isn’t it hard enough to fight infectious diseases in poor countries? Can we afford to start talking about the diseases like cancer, which we still struggle with in the United States? 


Construction should start as soon as Wednesday at a site near Copalis Beach in Grays Harbor County on a Doppler radar station.

Sen. Maria Cantwell's office says it could be operating as soon as September, giving the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a better look at Pacific storms heading for the Northwest.

The new radar will fill in information that is missing because the Olympic mountains block the only other Western Washington Doppler radar station on Camano Island.

AP Photo

From Chehalis to Chicago, local health food stores are seeing their stock of potassium iodide pills sell out, as public fear over radiation fallout from Japan's damaged nuclear plants continues.

The trouble is the fear doesn't match the risk, say numerous scientists and government officials, both here and across the nation, according to The News Tribune and other reports.

NHK via YouTube

You may have heard Washington has an earthquake fault similar to the one that devastated Japan.  While there are many fault-lines criss-crossing western Washington, the only one that bears a strong similarity is under the ocean, parallel to our coast-line.  It’s called the Cascadia subduction zone. 

Brian Atwater / University of Washington

The same type of tectonic earthquake that hit Japan - involving the collision of plates that make up the Earth's crust - could happen in the Northwest.  Similar faults lie in the Cascadia subduction zone. 

The head of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington, John Vidale, told The Seattle Times' Sandi Doughton the Cascadia fault last ruptured in 1700.  Scientists believe it generated at magnitude 9 earthquake and a tsunami that may have been bigger than the one that battered Japan. 

If you've had arthroscopic knee surgery for osteoarthritis, maybe you shouldn't have.  And if you've tried any of these treatments, there are questions, too, about whether it was worth it:

A virus outbreak has closed the Seattle Yacht Club's mainstation clubhouse on Portage Bay. Dozens of people who attended the JO Ball and a private party at the end of February became ill with gastrointestinal symptoms. Yacht Club General Manager Steve Hall says the club contacted the King County Health Department, sanitized the kitchen area, and closed the facility until March 12.