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5 Ways to Be an Eco-Friendly Pet Owner

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I eat mostly a plant-based diet, I say no to plastic straws and I'm trying to cut back on driving. But for my rescue pup Lela, I'll spoil her with a bit of grass-fed lamb, one of the most carbon-intensive meats out there.


As a person who spends the whole work week writing and thinking about the environment, I cringe at the thought of my dog's substantial environmental pawprint. So when news came out that British company Yora is offering pet food that swaps meat with climate-friendly insects, that got me thinking about how all pet owners can make better environmental choices for their furballs.


If you're a pet parent who also harbors some eco-guilt, check out the following tips:

1. Buy—or Make Your Own—Sustainable Pet Food

A 2017 study found that the 163 million dogs and cats in the U.S. eat about 25 percent of the country's total calories derived from meat, contributing to greenhouse emissions equivalent to 13.6 million cars. That's why Yora, as well as other companies in the U.S. and Germany, are churning out pet foods that contain ground up crickets and worms instead of meat or fish, which is not only good for our pets nutritionally, it's good for the environment.

"I've become concerned in recent years with the rise of pet foods with 'human grade' meat in them," Yora founder Tom Neish says on the company website. "These premium pet foods are great products, but as the earth warms and resources dwindle should we really be feeding so much meat to our pets?"

Edible bugs might have an ick-factor in America, but insects are eaten around the world and are known for their high nutritional content of fats and proteins, and is a sustainable food source that can be reared on organic waste.

Bug-filled kibble is relatively new, so it might not be available at your local pet shop or is perhaps out of your price range—Yora's grub is about $18 for a 3.3 pound bag. If that's the case, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) advises you to search for pet foods that feature sustainability certifications, ones that are high in vegetable content or have contain secondary products, like animal bone meal or organ meat, instead of human-grade meat, "which has a much greater footprint than by-products of the human food industry," the NRDC said.

"It is a method of recycling nutrient- and energy-rich products," Kelly Scott Swanson, a professor of animal and nutritional sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, told the NRDC.

Also, if you choose canned food, make sure the cans are recycled. Making your own pet food also cuts down on processed, chemically-laden foods, but make sure your recipes are made the right way so your furball is getting proper nutrition.

2. Choose Green Toys and Supplies

We all know the harmful impact of plastic on the planet, so limit the number of pet toys or accessories that contain the material. Plenty of companies offer toys, beds and other supplies that are made of reclaimed or sustainable products.

Instead of buying new, I also like to rummage through thrift shops to see what pet gear people have donated. The children's section at Goodwill might have stuffed animals that your pooch would love—just remove any hard plastic buttons, eyes or ribbons so Fido doesn't chew or swallow them. Avoid toys that have those little polystyrene beads and other potentially harmful stuffing.

To help pay it forward, donate all your gently used pet toys to an animal shelter or to other pet owners.

3. Use Non-Toxic Grooming and Pest Protection Methods

The best way to control ticks and fleas is grooming your pets regularly and washing their bedding with good ol' soap and water. The NRDC notes that many conventional flea and tick products such as collars, topical treatments, sprays and dusts contain chemicals that could be risky to our pet's health and human health as well.

But if chemical products are necessary, the NRDC recommends less toxic products with s-methoprene or pyriproxyfen as ingredients and to avoid products that include synthetic neonicotinoids (like imidacloprid and dinotefuran), which are known to harm pollinators and could be toxic to kids' developing brains.

4. Prevent Pet Waste Pollution

Never leave dog waste on the ground, as rain can carry contaminants into waterways and could make people sick, the NRDC warns in a blog post. "It also contains nitrogen and phosphorus, which contribute to slimy and sometimes toxic algae outbreaks," said Jon Devine, senior attorney for NRDC's Water program.

For cat waste, never flush it down the toilet as their feces can also enter waterways and affect marine life, Andrew Wetzler, NRDC's deputy chief program officer, explained in the post. "While some cities have water treatment plants that cleanse the water, not all programs are designed to screen out some of the things that are contained in dog or cat poop," he said.

The NRDC also suggests choosing cat litter that does not contain sodium bentonite, which is often obtained via environmentally harmful strip-mining. Alternatives include litter made from wood, corn, wheat or newspaper.

Unless your city has a robust compost program where pet waste is accepted, your best bet is to actually throw the poop in the trash. For my dog, I like Earth Rated's compostable bags that are made of vegetable starch.

5. Bob Barker is Right, Spay or Neuter Your Pets

Pet owners have a role in stopping animal homelessness and euthanization. An estimated 6-8 million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters every year, and barely half of these animals are adopted, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

"Millions of pet deaths each year are a needless tragedy. By spaying and neutering your pet, you can be an important part of the solution," the Humane Society said.

In the same vein, always remember, "Adopt, Don't Shop" to help reduce overcrowding in animal shelters. This year, California became the first state to ban pet stores from selling animals from breeders. The stores are only allowed to sell dogs, cats and rabbits if they come from shelters or non-profit rescue organizations.

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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.