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Corralling Mad Cow

Amid controversy and media hype, HSPH's analysis of risk to the U.S. suggests the disease's spread would be limited

Photograph: USDA

Why the Toaster?

Dean's Message
The scientific basis of health decision-making

Assessing Risk
Smart health and safety policies are groun
ded in quantitative research.

Fishy Business
As mercury levels rise, what are the risks and benefits of eating fish?h benefits

What Price Health?
Cost-effectiveness analysis seeks to maximize health care dollars.

Keeping Risk in Perspective
Communication helps public separate real dangers, false alarms.


Dueling Diets
A study asks: How best to lose weight and keep it off?

Canaries in the Coal Mine
Youth violence mirrors society's larger ills

Getting Health Reform Right
There's no quick fix for broken systems, say HSPH experts

Little Middle Ground in the Elections
This election, little middle ground exists between Republicans and Democrats

The Prevention Question
Curbing 20 health risks to boost global life expectancy

Epidemiology's Odysseus
Passive smoking discovery one step in career journey







Crisis of Confidence
HSPH offers crash course to restore trust in U.S. health care

Polio Vaccine Turns 50
HSPH contributions key to this public health milestone

Taking Quality's Measure
New studies cite strengths, shortcomings in U.S. health care

Gentle Diplomat
One physician's quiet quest to end female circumcision

Passive smoking discovery one step in career journey

Letters from Albania
Alumni and students forge fruitful alliances

New publications from the HSPH faculty



Why the Toaster?

A parent probably told you as a child not to put a metal fork in the toaster to retrieve your toast. But just how high is the risk? Can you minimize it to zero? How much will that cost? Is it worth the investment?

At HSPH, decision scientists help public health experts and policy makers make such decisions in the realms of health care, safety, and environmental regulation by examining available facts and employing quantitative methods and strategies such as cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis, which assigns dollar costs to various courses of action.

Accidental injuries are a leading and eminently preventable public health problem. Thanks to laws regulating the manufacture of appliances and electrical building codes, only about 15 Americans are electrocuted annually due to misused or faulty appliances, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. That’s out of 290 million people, suggesting that regulations combined with common sense have made toaster shocks exceedingly rare. But manufacturers and electricians can make mistakes, as can consumers, who may forget that the toaster’s heating coils conduct electricity even when the switch is off. Using a metal tool even after pulling the plug can damage the insulation on the toaster’s heating coils. The next user could blow a fuse--and maybe, suffer a shock--if the current passes from the bare coil to the toaster's metal frame.

But unlike mad cow disease or some of the other issues HSPH faculty address, one can take the risk of toaster shocks to near zero at almost no additional cost. Simply pull the plug, then use a nonmetallic tool to clear the crumbs. —Karin Kiewra

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