New Year’s Resolution: Drive Safely and Prevent Motor Vehicle Collisions

Sunrise at Haleakala Volcano Summit in Maui. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Sunrise at Haleakala Volcano Summit in Maui. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” -Carol Burnett

Most people are good and responsible drivers. They care about their own safety and they care about others. But some drivers are serious threat to safety.

A recent survey done by the Alberta Motor Association and published in their magazine (AMA Insider – Winter 2017) identified the following five actions to be serious threat to safety while on the road:

  1. Drivers texting or emailing
  2. Drivers talking on the phones
  3. People driving after drinking alcohol
  4. Aggressive driving
  5. Speeding on residential streets

It is estimated that traffic collisions would soon become the third major cause of death worldwide. The major victims of these traffic collisions are people between five and 44 years of age. That is tragic.

Let us briefly look at what Transport Canada has to say about road safety.

Although drivers aged 15 to 34 represent only about 30 per cent of the driving population, they accounted for 40 per cent of the fatalities and 45 per cent of the serious injuries, indicating that younger drivers are at greater risk.

The annual social costs of the motor vehicle collisions in terms of loss of life, medical treatment, rehabilitation, lost productivity, and property damage are measured in tens of billions of dollars. We can certainly use that kind of money treating other health issues.

Here are few examples where we can do better:

  1. Seat belts worn correctly can reduce the chances of death and disability. It is estimated about 300 lives could be saved every year if everyone wore seat belts.
  2. Aggressive driving includes speeding, running red lights, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, and failing to yield right of way, among other behaviours should be avoided. Forty per cent of speeding drivers involved in fatal crashes were 16 to 24 years of age.
  3. Young drivers, 16 to 24 years of age, continue to be at higher risk of being killed in motor vehicle collisions. One of the reasons being the use of cell phones or other similar devices while driving.
  4. In 2008, coroners’ testing showed almost 40 per cent of fatally injured drivers had been drinking some amount of alcohol prior to the collision.
  5. Drugs, other than alcohol, are also being found in about one-third of tested fatally injured drivers, similar to the prevalence of alcohol.

There are many other reasons why a driver can be distracted: using electronic devices, reading maps, eating, drinking, talking, or impaired by fatigue.

It is estimated about 20 per cent of fatal collisions involve driver fatigue. Everyone is subject to their body’s circadian rhythms such that they are less alert during certain times of the day, usually 2:00-4:00 a.m. and 2:00-4:00 p.m. Therefore, taking breaks from driving during these times could lower the risk of fatigue related collisions.

Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to drive safely and prevent death and disability.

Have a happy and healthy 2018.

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Auto-brewery syndrome – a rare condition where the body brews its own alcohol.

"Looking Into My Dreams, Awilda," is one of four large-scale portrait sculptures titled "Jamue Plensa: 1004 Portraits," in Millennium Park, Chicago. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
"Looking Into My Dreams, Awilda," is one of four large-scale portrait sculptures titled "Jamue Plensa: 1004 Portraits," in Millennium Park, Chicago. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

It was reported on CNN and now it is making rounds in the media. A woman in upstate New York was charged with DUI (driving under the influence) hours after her last drink.

The lady blew a blood alcohol level of nearly 0.40. The police procedure is to take the accused to a hospital, as that level is considered extremely life threatening.
The lady’s blood alcohol level in the hospital was 0.30. This was many hours after her last drink.

The lady was charged with DUI but a judge dismissed the charge after being presented with evidence the woman suffered from “auto-brewery syndrome.”

“I’m in touch with about 30 people who believe they have this same syndrome, about 10 of them are diagnosed with it,” says Panola College Dean of Nursing Barbara Cordell, who has studied the syndrome for years. “They can function at alcohol levels such as 0.30 and 0.40 when the average person would be comatose or dying. Part of the mystery of this syndrome is how they can have these extremely high levels and still be walking around and talking.” Cordell was quoted on CNN.

The condition is also known as gut-fermentation syndrome. This rare medical condition can occur when abnormal amounts of yeast in the gut convert common food carbohydrates into alcohol. The process is believed to take place in the small bowel.

The condition was first described in 1912 as “germ carbohydrate fermentation.” Since then, from time to time, it has surfaced in the media. In 2013, a case of a 61-year-old man who had frequent bouts of unexplained drunkenness for years was documented. Subsequently, he was diagnosed with an intestinal overabundance of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or brewer’s yeast, the same yeast used to make beer.

CNN report says that the lady is treating her condition with anti-fungal medications and a yeast-free diet with absolutely no sugar, no alcohol and very low carbs. The report says that this does not work for everybody.

So I looked it up on Wikipedia.

The condition has been described variously. The self-brewery syndrome, intestinal fermentation syndrome, and gut syndrome fermentation is an intestinal disease and very poorly documented. There is no consensus among specialists.

The condition was described for the first time in 1976 in Japan. One case went unnoticed for 20 years, despite strong alcoholic intoxication following meals high in sugar or high in carbohydrates.

Symptoms of the disease can have a significant impact on daily life, says Wikipedia.  Recurrent symptoms such as dizziness, dry mouth, cold sweats, hangover, disorientation, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, which can lead to other health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Is there a good treatment for it?

In general, the effects of the condition can be alleviated with a very low carbohydrate diet. The antifungal drug, fluconazole, can be an effective treatment against the disease since the drug is able to reduce Saccharomyces cerevisiae, responsible for fermentation in the gastrointestinal tract.

If you think you are suffering from auto-brewery syndrome, then to put it simply, don’t eat and drive.

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What would make the liver quit working?

A cirrhotic liver. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)
A cirrhotic liver. (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Dear Dr. B: What would make the liver quit working? This person did not use alcohol. Could West Nile virus, hepatitis or E. coli possibly affect your liver?

Two most common causes of liver failure in North America are alcohol and acetaminophen use. Acetaminophen is present in over-the-counter pain and cold medications like Tylenol. We will come to this later. Let me first answer your question.

As far as I know, West Nile virus does not cause liver failure. Usually. West Nile fever resolves spontaneously and completely. In a worst case scenario, fatigue, headache, weakness, movement disorders can persist for weeks or months. Severe disease involving the nervous system can result in death or permanent disability. Death is from swelling of the brain and respiratory failure.

Hepatitis does cause liver failure. Hepatitis is a generic term used for inflammation and damage to the liver cells. The liver cells can be damaged by drugs, any kind of toxins, alcohol, inherited diseases, certain metabolic diseases and viruses. Generally speaking, when we say hepatitis, it refers to viral hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis C is the commonest reason for liver transplant in the U.S.

E. coli infection is very common. But it is not a common cause of liver failure. E. coli can cause infection of the urinary tract, gallbladder, bile ducts and the infection, in rare cases, travel to the the liver, brain (meningitis) or lungs (pneumonia). The majority of infected individuals make a full recovery within a week. About six per cent of patients end up having kidney failure (hemolytic uremic syndrome). Of these, between three to five per cent of patients will die.

Alcohol is a poison. Any amount of alcohol can produce damage to the the liver. The liver is very sensitive to alcohol. If you have had previous problems with the liver then the best thing is to avoid alcohol and acetaminophen.

The most common agent causing liver damage is acetaminophen. However, It is considered the safest medication for fevers, aches and pains, but only if taken in small recommended amounts. In large amounts, greater than those recommended, can result in the liver damage or failure. Acetaminophen overdose is a common reason for considering a transplant.

We have five vital organs – the liver, the brain, the heart, the lungs and the kidneys. The liver plays a vital role in the metabolism of fat and carbohydrates, synthesis of proteins, detoxification of poisons and storage of good nutrients. When the the liver fails, either acutely or chronically, these important functions do not occur. Thus, the person faces severe ill health. There are numerous other reasons why the liver can fail. It is impossible to discuss them all here. However, you get the idea. It is easy to damage your liver if you are not careful.

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Be Safe, Do Not Drink and Drive

Alcoholic drink and car keys. (iStockphoto)
Alcoholic drink and car keys. (iStockphoto)

Drivers, here is a recipe for disaster: drugs, alcohol, not wearing a seat belt and speeding.

The highest rate of impaired driving is amongst young drivers aged 19 to 24. This accounts for 56 per cent of all reported criminal incidents.

The rate of impaired driving is at its worse at age 21 and relatively constant for 25 to 44 year olds. Seniors aged 65 years and older have the lowest rates. Statistics show impaired driving was a factor in almost 50 per cent of all incidents causing death.

Here are some other statistics:

-Every 22 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident.

-There is a 200 per cent chance that you or someone in your family will either cause, or be an innocent victim to, a drunk driving accident.

-A lot of young people (15 to 24 ages) are dying before they get old. These are tragic, meaningless deaths.

-In a single year, 522 children under the age of 14 were arrested for driving while intoxicated, (113 of them were under 10 years old).

Driving under the influence of alcohol is the single risk factor for motor-vehicle-related incidents and injury. It is about time we crack down on irresponsible teenagers and adults who drink and drive. Alberta is now in tune with B.C., Ontario and six other provinces in passing laws which will lower the legal limit for blood-alcohol concentration from 0.08 to 0.05 per cent.

If you are caught drunk driving then you may pay a steep fine, lose your license and have your car impounded – all before you set foot in court. So, be warned.

The new legislation in Alberta soon after four teens were killed by an alleged drunk driver just south of Grande Prairie. A 21-year-old Grande Prairie, Alta., man was to face a slew of alcohol-related charges in a devastating crash that left four teens dead and one in serious condition. Matthew Deller, 16, Vincent Stover, 16, Walter Borden-Wilkens, 15, and Tanner Hildebrand, 15, all of Grande Prairie, were killed.
Speeding and not wearing a seat belt are other causes of fatalities on our roads. Again the majority of culprits are kids in their 20s or younger. Six months ago, citing a lack of evidence, cops in Calgary released a 21-year-old driver involved in a high-speed rollover that killed his younger brother and girlfriend.

The original charge included impaired driving. The crash happened shortly before midnight on a Sunday on Stoney Trail at McKnight Blvd. N.E. Two of the five people on board, the driver’s 16-year-old girlfriend and his 20-year-old brother, were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown from the car. They were taken to hospital where both later died.

Few months ago, the town of Magrath, Alta. was in mourning after four teens were killed in a horrific crash on a Sunday. The four – Clay Card, 16, Renzo Dainard, 16, Danae Gough, 14, and Jorden Miller 14 – were in a vehicle that left the road east of Magrath, about 240 km southwest of Calgary, landing upside down and partially submerged in a creek. According to the local Mounties, speed and driver inexperience probably caused the crash.

The holiday season is here. Drinking and partying is part of the Christmas and New Year celebrations. If you drink then don’t drive. If the party is in a hotel then book a room and stay there. Otherwise, take a cab or have somebody (who is not drinking) to drive you home. Wear a seat belt and do not speed.

Have a wonderful, safe Christmas and holiday season and Happy New Year. This column will return in January, 2012.

Start reading the preview of my book A Doctor's Journey for free on Amazon. Available on Kindle for $2.99!