Environment

Life Science According to Trump: An Examination of Claims and Facts

By Wren Greaney, History major, Biological Sciences & Community Development minor, ’17

Author’s Note:

I decided to write this article on the Wednesday after the presidential election. After the long whirlwind of campaigning, it seemed that many unanswered questions lingered. Health is one of the most immediate concerns for many people, and when accurate information about health exists, I think it should be provided so that individuals can make informed decisions. This article is an attempt to address a small fraction of the health concerns that were raised during the course of the presidential campaign.”

As speculation rises over the actions that President-elect Donald Trump will take once he enters the presidency, many Americans recall the statements made throughout his campaign that elicited a range of responses, including confusion. These statements include various comments regarding human health issues. A fact-based exploration into these claims and the realities of life science may clarify the differences between a remark and a scientifically-grounded, well-tested conclusion. Trump has engaged in many discussions related to science, but this paper will focus on three specific comments he has made regarding health topics, in order to reduce confusion for individuals who seek accurate information regarding health risks.

Cancer and Lightbulbs

Among Trump’s statements regarding human health, one touches on cancer risk. In a tweet from October 17, 2012, he stated that “new ‘environment friendly’ lightbulbs can cause cancer.”[1] Some research does exist on this topic pertaining to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which are described by the Environmental Protection Agency as using less energy and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”[2]

One study conducted by researchers at Stony Brook University found that human skin tissue cells exposed to CFLs decreased in proliferation rate and demonstrated some damage from UV radiation [3]. The researchers placed human skin cell cultures 2.5 centimeters away from the center of a CFL bulb in a cooled temperature. Samples were collected at different time points and analyzed for cell proliferation, migration, and several other characteristics. Results showed that under these circumstances, the cells exposed to CFL for two hours showed significantly reduced levels of mitochondrial activity, with a 25% reduction for keratinocytes and a 40% reduction for dermal fibroblasts. Additionally, some cells exposed to the bulb showed decreases in proliferation by 20%, 17% and 45%, relative to proliferation of the unilluminated control group [3]. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are increased by the presence of UV light and are known to contribute to DNA damage and eventual cell death, particularly when combined with endogenous photosensitizers in human skin. ROS amounts increased in human cell samples that were exposed to CFL, indicating a higher risk of cell death.

The study concluded that UV radiation emanating from CFL bulbs is potentially harmful to human skin. Of the damages discussed in the study, including reductions in mitochondrial activity, decreases in proliferation, and increases in cell death risk, the effects can contribute to premature aging and impaired wound healing. Although CFL bulbs cause cell damage according to the study, the damages do not include cancer. Trump’s indication that CFL bulbs can cause cancer is not directly supported by this study, which has been cited by at least 22 peer-reviewed reports and books.

Ebola Transmission

Trump has further expressed his concerns related to disease in terms of viral transmission. The Ebola viral disease entered an outbreak in 2014. On August 2, 2014, he tweeted “The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders.’ Act fast!”[4] Two months later he tweeted “Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting.”[5]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website states that the virus can be transmitted from human to human through the bodily fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola, by infected fruit bats or primates, and possibly from the semen of a man who has recovered from Ebola [6]. These claims by CDC align with the conclusions of numerous studies.

The disease’s transmission is somewhat complex due to the dramatic variation in its transmissibility depending on the stage of the disease, according to a report by Michael Klompas, MD, MPH and Deborah S. Yokoe, MD, MPH [7]. Based on evidence from Ebola cases that were diagnosed outside of West Africa, transmission risk is essentially nonexistent during the initial phase of infection until symptoms appear. Incidents of person-to-person contact for that same group of cases indicated that transmission risk also appears to be very low during the first few days after symptoms arise. Researchers have found that Ebola transmission risk increases as the disease progresses, partly because patients eventually release greater amounts of vomit and diarrhea, which are bodily fluids that can transmit the virus.

Ebola transmission is therefore relatively variable, and knowledge of the topic is still expanding. The CDC has responded and adjusted its recommendations as more information has become available. In contrast to Trump’s claim that the CDC was not admitting to the full nature of transmission, the CDC was in fact learning and incorporating new information that was gained through the observation of these cases. Furthermore, his call for an immediate end to flights connecting the United States to Ebola-infected nations seems to have exaggerated the nature of Ebola transmission. A total halt on these flights would both limit the international assistance available to Ebola-stricken countries and prevent American healthcare workers from returning from those countries to the U.S., where infected Americans could be isolated and treated. As research and the CDC have indicated, transmission occurs through bodily fluids and can only take place after the appearance of symptoms. Based on this information, moderate precautions were and are necessary; panic and ungrounded speculation are not productive factors in addressing Ebola from a fact-based approach.

Vaccines and Autism

In addition to his comments on disease, Trump has weighed in on the process by which disease is prevented. Vaccinations have come under discussion during Trump’s time in the public eye. In a Republican debate on September 16, 2015, he claimed, “I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time.” He attributed this perspective to his belief that vaccinations are linked to autism, which he has publicly claimed since at least 2012 [8].

The CDC has plainly stated that there is no link between vaccines and autism. It cites a report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies that discusses the results of an investigation of this and other concerns about adverse effects of vaccines.[9] The investigation involved both epidemiologic evidence from studies of populations and mechanistic evidence from biological and clinical studies. The committee also evaluated each scientific article for its strengths and weaknesses to ensure that the conclusions and evidence they used were sufficiently reliable. For some vaccines, the committee found that potential side-effects included rash, infection, and rarely, other complications including seizure, disease, and anaphylaxis. The committee investigated the rubella (MMR) vaccine for a linkage to autism, and the evidence led to a rejection of any relationship between the two.

Numerous studies have agreed with the conclusion of those findings. One in particular examined the association between autism and vaccines that contain thimerosal, which is a very common organic compound used as a preservative in vaccines for children [10]. In 2003, researchers studied data on children born in Denmark from January 1, 1990 through December 31, 1996. They statistically analyzed incidences of autism and vaccinations for the 467,450 individuals and found no evidence of an association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. Over 100 subsequent articles have cited this report, and numerous related studies have reached similar conclusions.

The overwhelming evidence points to a lack of a causation or association between vaccines and autism. Trump’s indication that he believes smaller doses should be given over a longer time period in order to avoid autism does not align with the findings of scientific research into the effects of vaccinations.

Conclusion

A wealth of research exists regarding these and other health challenges that permeate America and the world. In order for individuals to accurately understand factors that may affect their health, it is important to consider the research that has been conducted into such impactful topics as cancer, viral disease, and autism. Knowledge of these topics continuously expands as new investigations take place, and individuals can gain a more complete understanding of their risks by considering the abundant studies that have addressed these issues. Likewise, as politicians seek to address health topics, it is important that they incorporate a consideration of various scientific studies into their dialogue and decisions to avoid public misunderstandings or panic. Therefore, if President-elect Trump is to make informed decisions that promote accurate understandings amongst Americans, he must utilize such findings.

 

Sources

  1. Donald Trump (realDonaldTrump). “Remember, new “environment friendly” lightbulbs can cause cancer. Be careful– the idiots who came up with this stuff don’t care.” 17 Oct. 2012, 8:39am. Tweet.
  2. “Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs),” US Environmental Protection Agency.
  3. Tatsiana Mironava et al., “The Effects of UV Emission from Compact Fluorescent Light Exposure on Human Dermal Fibroblasts and Keratinocytes In Vitro,” Photochemistry and Photobiology 88, no. 6 (Nov./Dec. 2012) : 1497–1506.
  4. Donald J. Trump (realDonaldTrump). “The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our “borders.” Act fast!”. 02 Aug 2014, 4:26am. Tweet.
  5. Donald J. Trump (realDonaldTrump). “Ebola is much easier to transmit than the CDC and government representatives are admitting. Spreading all over Africa-and fast. Stop flights”. 02 Oct 2014, 2:52am. Tweet.
  6. “Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease): Transmission,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 22, 2015.
  7. Michael Klompas and Deborah S. Yokoe, “The Ebola transmission paradox,” American Journal of Infection Control 43, no. 8 (August 2015) : 786–787.
  8. “CNN/Reagan Library Republican Presidential Debate,” Vote Smart, Sept. 16, 2015.
  9. “Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality,” Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, August 2011.
  10. Anders Hviid et al, “Association Between Thimerosal-Containing Vaccine and Autism,” JAMA 290, no. 13  (Oct. 2003) : 1763-1766.

Note: The views expressed in this paper do no not necessarily reflect the views of The Aggie Transcript as a whole.