What is the best antidote for a jellyfish sting? (Clue: it’s not urine) – The Guardian UK, May 9 2017

What should you do if a jellyfish stings you? Scientists have found that applying vinegar is the best solution, and that popular remedies including urine, lemon juice, and shaving foam could make the situation worse.

A recent study in Toxins, which investigated the efficacy of various remedies for stings from the Portuguese man o’ war (Physalia physalis) concludes that rinsing with vinegar before applying heat is the most effective treatment. The commonly recommended treatment of seawater and ice was found to cause more harm than good.

Dr Tom Doyle, a biologist at NUI Galway and co-author of the paper, conducted research on both the Atlantic and Pacific man o’ war. He said the findings represented a complete U-turn.

“For me it was certainly surprising as we have been recommending seawater and ice for the last 10 years,” he said. “But that’s the nature of science; we have to hold up our hands and say we were wrong. We went back to basics and tested different methods. There’s no doubt about our findings. We are absolutely 100% certain that vinegar does the trick.”

The scientists tested various solutions on sheep and human blood cells suspended in agar. The method of scraping away tentacles was found to increase pressure on the affected area, causing the stinging capsules to fire more venom into the victim. However, applying vinegar was shown to prevent further venom release, allowing the tentacles to be safely removed. Immersing the area in 45C water or applying a heatpack resulted in fewer red blood cells being killed.

In contrast, rinsing with seawater was found to worsen stings by spreading venom capsules further, while cold packs caused them to fire more venom. The infamous urine theory – popularised by an episode of Friends – was also found to aggravate stings. Baking soda, shaving cream, soap, lemon juice, alcohol and cola yielded similar results.

Although vinegar is used for many other jellyfish stings, the man o’ war has long been considered an exception, with many guidelines warning against its use. While it’s true that the man o’ war is different – they are technically a siphonophore and not a jellyfish – the scientists behind this research are now arguing that all stings be treated equally.

Biologist and jellyfish expert Dr Lisa Gershwin agrees that treatment with vinegar works, but expressed concern about the hot water recommendation.

“Hot water does take away the pain but this is a neurological process; it has nothing to do with denaturing the venom,” she said. “Fresh water activates discharge and by applying heat, you are dilating the capillaries and allowing venom to go further into the body.”

The study was prompted by an influx of man o’ war on European coasts last summer and built upon the findings of a study on box jellyfish conducted by the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. The researchers will now turn their attention to the lion’s mane jellyfish to determine if the same conclusions apply.

(First published in The Guardian UK. Available online at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/09/vinegar-best-antidote-jellyfish-stings-urine-lemon-juice-make-worse-study)

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Parents of children with Cystic Fibrosis bring their campaign to the Dail – Enniscorthy Guardian, December 10 2016

Ballindaggin mother Julie Forster left the Dail feeling hopeful last Thursday following a presentation to push for the funding of Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi.

Julie was one of 14 parents from around the country to travel to Dublin in a bid to gain government support for the drug, which they believe will improve the quality of life for their children. Armed with photographs and stories of their beloved children, the representative group made a moving presentation to TDs on the reality of living with the illness.

‘We think it went very well. It is hard to say but many of the TDs said that they were very moved,’ said Julie, whose three-year-old daughter Ruth suffers from Cystic Fibrosis. ‘We had a very good attendance which we were happy with. James Browne was the only Wexford representative that I saw but we had many more from around the country.’

Though Julie did not make a presentation herself, Riverchapel mother Claire Merrigan spoke about her son Mason, the severity of his illness and the daily routine that he must endure. Several other parents from around the country, including those whose children are currently on the Orkambi trial, also spoke about their own experiences.

‘Some of the TDs asked some questions, mainly around the Orkambi figures on improvement. We explained that, while the figures don’t always look great, the reality is that a lot of people are doing well on it and a lot of money could be saved on hospital admissions if people were on Orkambi,’ explained Julie. ‘All of them promised that they would go further with it. There is nothing definite but anyone we spoke with afterwards said that they would support us. They agreed that a solution has to be found.’

The meeting took place only days after an exclusive report was published in the Sunday Business Post stating that the HSE drug committee had recommended against funding Orkambi, which has a €159,000 annual price tag per patient. It was reported that the committee did not view the drug to deliver enough benefits to justify its high cost. Julie and many other parents and sufferers around the country learned of the news through a Tweet – something Julie described as ‘disgraceful‘.

‘We are still very disappointed with how the news came out,’ said Julie last week. ‘The HSE still haven’t made a formal statement on it but they aren’t denying it.’

However, in the days following the leak, Minister for Health Simon Harris has reached out to overseas counterparts asking them to work with him to make Orkambi available for patients at a cost-effective price. He has assured patients that the process for accessing Orkambi is not over but said that more discussions and price negotiations with manufacturer Vertex are needed.

In the meantime, the parents group will continue to fight for their cause. On December 7, they will travel to Dublin to participate in a march to the Dail.

(First published in the Enniscorthy Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/goreyguardian/news/parents-of-children-with-cystic-fibrosis-bring-their-campaign-to-the-dail-35270351.html)

Enniscorthy’s new social housing will be the first passive house scheme in country – Enniscorthy Guardian, December 10 2016

Enniscorthy will receive €1.5m in government funding to purchase eight new passive homes in what is the first scheme of its kind in the country.

Based in Madeira Oaks in Enniscorthy, the homes have been awarded an A minus BER rating which means that they produce more energy than they require. They were constructed by Michael Bennett of Enniscorthy Passive Developments and will cost €190,000 each.

‘In the past while, we have been looking at ways of addressing the housing supply issue and asked people with ideas to get in touch. Michael Bennett contacted us and we liked his scheme in terms of the way it uses sustainable energy, reduces the need for heating and also addresses the issue of fuel poverty,’ said Senior Executive Housing Officer Liz Hore. ‘We were delighted to get word that we will receive €1.5 m to work with him.’

These homes typically have energy costs of about €200 per year in comparison with the average household bill of €2,500. According to Ms Hore, the first two will be ready to move into in the new year.

She added that the scheme has allowed them to deliver fast-track social housing in Enniscorthy.

‘We have been discussing about the need to accelerate the delivery of social housing. These passive houses are being turned around within eight months.’

This is first time that passive homes have been acquired for social housing in Ireland. According to Ms Hore, they are hoping that their scheme will serve as a demo model for others around the country. She said that passive homes are the way forward, due to their affordability and lower fuel requirements.

‘They are ticking all of the boxes,’ she said.

(First published in the Enniscorthy Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: www.independent.ie/regionals/enniscorthyguardian/news/enniscorthys-new-social-housing-will-be-the-first-passive-house-scheme-in-country-35270416.html)

Wexford Drama Group celebrates 50 years in the spotlight – Wexford People, December 10 2016

Wexford Drama Group celebrated their 50th anniversary in theatrical fashion with a celebration in the Irish National Heritage Park recently.

The group pulled out all of the stops to ensure the night was unforgettable, with plenty of drama, music and nostalgia to keep the crowd going. Over 60 people attended the event, which marked an end to the celebrations for this year.

Mayor of Wexford Frank Staples held a Civic Reception for Wexford Drama Group at the beginning of the evening. He spoke about the history of the group and, on behalf of the people of Wexford, expressed his pride in having such an organisation in the community.

It was a nostalgic evening for many as members from years gone by joined together with current members. Three of the former members – Des Waters, Jean Gould and Noreen Colfer – were part of the original group founded 50 years ago and in honour of this, they were presented with a lifetime membership by the current members. Throughout the night, different generations of the group performed short pieces, while old memorabilia such as posters and photos were dotted around the venue. A particular highlight was a moving video featuring interviews with some of the older members, which was compiled by John Michael Murphy.

Chairperson of the group Carol Long said a few words to the crowd, as did Phil Lyons, who shared some of his memories about his years in the group. Phil was also part of the event’s organising committee, along with Aine Gannon, Hilda Conway and Paul Walsh.

To top everything off, everyone enjoyed a meal, music by Damian Nolan and plenty of dancing until the early hours.

‘It was a really great night. It was lovely to mark the occasion as people do come and go. The event got people back in touch with the group,’ said PRO of Wexford Drama Group Tom O’Leary.

The night followed on from an event in Wexford Library the previous day, during which excerpts from the group’s first play ‘The Heiress’ were performed by former and current members. The play was produced by the group back in 1966 and in honour of the occasion, original cast members Jean Gould and Noreen Colfer played their parts once more. An exhibition of photographs and memorabilia of the last 50 years was also unveiled.

Following a successful weekend, the show must go on for the drama group. The will now turn their attention to their next production ‘Portia Coughlan’ by Marina Carr which will hit the Arts Centre stage in February.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/wexford-drama-group-celebrates-50-years-in-the-spotlight-35270067.html)

Enniscorthy mother won’t give up fight for her CF daughter – Enniscorthy Guardian, December 3 2016

News that the HSE won’t fund Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi is ‘devastating’ according to Julie Forster, but she is not going to let it prevent her from keeping up the fight to get access to the drug for her daughter.

At the weekend, the Sunday Business Post broke the news that the drug will be rejected for use by the HSE after their drug committee recommended against funding the drug at a recent meeting. According to the article, the committee, which includes several senior clinicians, decided it did not deliver enough benefits to patients to justify its €159,000 price tag.

Ballindaggin resident Julie Forster, whose three-year-old Ruth suffers from the illness, learned of the news through a Tweet on Saturday night, only days before she and members of a CF action group for parents will hold a presentation in the Dail to push for the funding of the drug.

‘The way it broke is just disgraceful. Members of the Cystic Fibrosis community and even Cystic Fibrosis Ireland learned of the news through a Tweet. We took that pretty hard and at first, we were wondering if it was misinformation,’ she said. ‘It just shows the way that the CF community is treated in general. Apparently Simon Harris didn’t even know about this. The fact that they went to the newspapers first is a disgrace.’

Julie said that she was ‘absolutely devastated’ to learn of the news, which according to her, has taken away a lot of hope for parents and sufferers of Cystic Fibrosis. The possibility that the drug may not be funded by the HSE would also bring the drug trials, that several people around Ireland are currently undertaking, to a halt. Though Julie’s daughter is not currently trialling Orkambi and is ‘quite well’ at the moment, she said that this could affect several families that she knows.

‘I am in touch with some families whose teenagers are on the trials and are doing really well. They have been on it for three years and can’t contemplate what life would be like if they are taken off the drug,’ she said.

Despite the huge disappointment brought by the recent news, Julie is still prepared to fight in the Dail on Thursday along with representatives from 14 other families who are affected by the illness.

‘This Thursday, we will still do our presentation and hope that we can get as many TDs as we can to back it. Simon Harris has the power to overturn the decision but he has said in the past that he wouldn’t. The drug company Vertex have issued a statement saying that they are still willing to negotiate on the price. So our options are either to negotiate on the price or make Minister Harris change his mind,’ she said. ‘We are hoping that we will come to some agreement.’

Julie has invited the five Wexford ministers to the presentation and has received responses from all of them. James Browne has promised to attend the meeting, while Mick Wallace said either he or a representative will be there. She was informed that Brendan Howlin will do his best to attend. Paul Kehoe is unavailable but has contacted the group to say that he will meet them on another date. Meanwhile, Michael D’arcy said that he could not attend.

Other members of the group nationwide have also called on their TDs to attend, while all are encouraging people to attend a separate march to the Dail on December 7.

‘We have received quite a promising response from TDs. Hopefully when they come out, they will learn more about the illness. It might help them to put faces to numbers,’ said Julie. ‘It is a matter of trying to get this funded and in my opinion, it has to be done. It is a matter of life and death to some people.’

(First published in the Enniscorthy Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/enniscorthyguardian/news/enniscorthy-mother-wont-give-up-fight-for-her-cf-daughter-35251969.html)

Mayor of Wexford Cllr Frank Staples speaks out about mental health in light of suicide figures – Wexford People, November 19 2016

Mayor of Wexford Cllr Frank Staples says that speaking out about his mental illness was like ‘taking away a mask’ and is encouraging people to open up.

Cllr Staples, who has been open about his own battle with depression in recent years, said that suffering in silence is like wearing a mask – an ordeal that it can become very exhausting for a person over time.

‘It’s so exhausting to be covering up mental illness day in and day out,’ he said. ‘When you talk about it, it can only be described as taking away a mask. You feel instantly better. I encourage people to let down the mask and talk about it.’

‘For me as mayor to speak out about my own battle with depression, it has made a huge difference to me,’ he continued. ‘It feels really good to be open. I know now that if I’m not feeling well, I can talk about it. I don’t feel like I am making excuses.’

Cllr Staples acknowledged that it can be difficult for people to seek help themselves when they are suffering from a mental illness. With this in mind, he said it is important for everyone in the community to play their part in tackling the issue.

‘I have said before that I feel that anyone with a mental illness is strong. They have to face daily battles but they can’t keep fighting forever,’ he said.

‘We expect people to ask for help when they are struggling but not everyone is able to do that. We all have a huge part to play. It’s important to ask those close to you how they are and even though they might not speak out the first time, it might encourage them to eventually open up,’ he said.

At a higher level, Cllr Staples said that establishing a 24/7 mental health unit in Wexford is vital, not only for those suffering from mental illness, but for those close to them.

‘If somebody is suffering from depression for example, it’s good for their family to know that there is 24/7 support available. It gives them reassurance that there is somewhere that they can go if their loved one is in difficulty,’ he said. ‘Mental illness doesn’t only affect those suffering.’

Cllr Staples reiterated earlier reports that the County Council are currently in talks with the government on the possibility of an alternative use for St Senan’s Hospital. He said He would like to see a 24/ 7 unit on the grounds of Wexford General Hospital.

‘A 24/7 unit is definitely needed in Wexford and I don’t think anyone is going to argue that. There has been a lot of speculation about where it should be but I would like to see it on the grounds of Wexford General Hospital as you have access to other services there,’ he said.

‘I would love to see it soon but I am under no illusions; it takes a lot of time and money. Finding a building is no problem but hiring staff costs a lot of money,’ he continued. ‘But if we don’t at least talk about it, it will never happen.’

Improving education on mental health is also necessary, according to Cllr Staples, who said that many young people may not know if they are suffering with depression.

‘More could be done for teens and young people. They might be suffering from depression but don’t know the symptoms. There are so many symptoms of depression. They could be going around feeling terrible and not knowing why,’ he said.

Cllr Staples made his comments following the release of figures from the CSO, which showed that 405 people lost their lives to suicide in Wexford between 1995 and 2015. Commenting on the figures, he said that they were shocking and very high but said it is likely that they are even higher in reality. He said it is difficult to know for sure why Wexford has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country.

‘We have a high rate of unemployment and I am sure that isn’t helping,’ he said. ‘But that’s just speculation. I imagine it is linked in some way or another as unemployment puts more financial pressure on people.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/mayor-of-wexford-cllr-frank-staples-speaks-out-about-mental-health-in-light-of-suicide-figures-35215238.html)

Parents bring Cystic Fibrosis fight to Dáil – Enniscorthy Guardian, November 19 2016

An Enniscorthy mother will join with parents from across Ireland in the AV room in the Dáil on December 1 to push for the funding of Orkambi – a costly life-improving drug for people with Cystic Fibrosis.

Julie Forster from Ballindaggin will join with representatives from 14 other families to highlight their need for the drug Orkambi following an invitation by Sinn Féin to Leinster House. She will attend the presentation on behalf of her three-year-old daughter Ruth, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis and could benefit from the drug.

‘Often when people with CF get older, they get a lot of lung infections and complications and have to go to hospital every six weeks. I know of some people who have been on the trials for Orkambi and their hospital visits have been brought down from every six weeks to once or twice a year,’ said Julie. ‘It is certainly not a cure but it improves their quality of life. It will allow kids to miss less school and in future, they may even to be able to hold down jobs which otherwise, wouldn’t have been a possibility.’

At present, Ruth’s condition isn’t too severe and Julie said that she has had no issues with her lungs as of yet. However, her illness has led to problems with her bowel and pancreas which inhibits her body from breaking down fats. This means that she must take enzymes daily, while she also does physio for twenty minutes twice a day to keep mucus off her lungs.

Julie and her husband Karl must bring Ruth to Tallaght Children’s Hospital once every three months, with a full health check once a year.

Though Julie said that Ruth is ‘lucky’ so far, she knows many others whose symptoms are much more severe and said she fears what the future could hold for her own daughter.

‘It’s so unpredictable. She could stay like this until she is 18 or she could get an infection next year. Some people don’t have problems until they are adults,’ she said. ‘It’s very scary. I’m in conversation with other parents whose kids are really well one week and the next, they are in intensive care.’

‘Even though I try not to think about it, it is always in the back of your mind.’

Orkambi, which has been developed by American drug company Vertex, is currently available in the US, France and Germany. The possibility of bringing it in to Ireland has given parents hope that their children could have a better quality of life. However, a ruling on the initial review by National Centre for Pharma Economics recommended that the drug is not funded due to the high cost. According to Cystic Fibrosis Ireland, the HSE and Vertex are currently in negotiations concerning on the price of Orkambi but whether this will result in a deal remains unclear.

‘It will cost about €150,000 per patient per year. I agree that the price has to be negotiated. But we need an update. It is almost six months and we still have no update on it,’ said Julie.

Following a recent meeting in the Dáil, Sinn Féin invited the committee for the Parents of Children with Cystic Fibrosis to give a presentation in the AV room in the Dail on Thursday December 1 at 9.30 a.m. Through their presentation, Julie said they hope to gain cross-party support for their plight and subsequently, get the push they need to get funding for the drug.

TDs James Browne, Paul Kehoe, Mick Wallace, Brendan Howlin and Michael D’arcy have been invited by the Wexford parents to attend. Julie said that so far, she has received a definite confirmation of attendance from James Browne, saying that the others haven’t guaranteed anything just yet.

‘We hope that when they hear the speakers and what they are going through, they will support it. Cystic Fibrosis is a very invisible disease. I knew nothing about it until Ruth came along if I am honest,’ she said. ‘We hope to gain support and push on the negotiations on the drug.’

‘Ireland has the highest incidence of Cystic Fibrosis in the world so this is more important for us than some of the larger countries.’

‘We are fighting to give everyone the opportunity to try Orkambi if they wish to. At present, we are being told that it isn’t showing enough improvement in lung function. They have to look at the bigger picture, not just at the figures. If they do, it is clear that it improves the quality of life.’

The group has pointed out how the lives of 600 people with Cystic Fibrosis could be prolonged for years if public money was better spent. For example, they have said that Wexford VEC pays €420,000 rent on an unused building, which could save 2.6 lives.

(First published in the Enniscorthy Guardian newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/enniscorthyguardian/news/parents-bring-cystic-fibrosis-fight-to-dil-35215465.html)