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Thursday
Apr242014

CDC Report: Vaccines Have Spared Millions of Kids from Illnesses

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In response to a rise in measles cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the Vaccine for Children Program in 1994. And now, 20 years later, the CDC says in a new report that the immunization program has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children born since then.

"Vaccination over the course of their lifetimes will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 730,000 early deaths," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said on Thursday.

The report comes as measles is once more on the rise in the U.S. -- in many cases because parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

"Sixty-eight percent had what we call personal belief exemptions or essentially opted out of being vaccinated," said Dr. Ann Schuchat, assistant surgeon general of the United States Public Health Service.

According to CDC officials, there are 129 measles cases in the U.S. as of April 18.

The virus -- which causes flu-like symptoms, a miserable rash and, in rare cases, death -- is very contagious and, therefore, can spread fast among people who aren't vaccinated.

"When vaccination rates go up we are all safer," said Frieden.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

World's First 'Allergy-Friendly' Flights Take Off

Swiss International Air Lines(NEW YORK) -- Allergy sufferers, you're in luck. Especially if you've got plans to visit Switzerland.

Swiss Airlines is now the world's first airline to be designated as "allergy friendly," as determined by the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF).

The airline will, beginning in May, offer an "individualized service product for travelers with allergies." That includes lactose- and gluten-free food and beverage alternatives such as lactose-free coffee cream and a lactose-free version of the popular Swiss chocolate bar.

The airline will also use pillows stuffed with synthetic materials as an alternative to down in the first and business class cabins. The airline will also stop use of decorative flowers and air fresheners "that might cause nose and throat irritations," and the on-board toilets will now feature soaps that are "gentle" on the skin.

The airline's website added that its high-efficiency air conditioning system filters out pollen from outdoors and animal hair from pets on board. Swiss cabin crew members are trained to respond to an allergic emergency, the website said, and "histamine tablets are available if needed."

ECARF, in a joint press release with the airline, said more than 30 percent of Europe's population is affected by allergies. In the U.S., the Asthma and Allergy Foundation estimated 35 million people suffer from hay fever because they are allergic to pollen.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Five Things to Know About E-Cigarettes

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday morning plans to regulate electronic cigarettes, requiring manufacturers to disclose product ingredients to the administration and put warning labels on the devices. However, there’s probably a lot you didn’t know about the controversial e-cigarette.

For instance, e-cigarettes have been around since the 1960s. They’ve only started to take off in the last decade with more than 250 brands and flavors like watermelon, pink bubble gum and Java. An estimated four million Americans use them, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.

Read below for answers to more of your burning questions:

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are battery operated nicotine inhalers that consist of a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED that lights up at the end when you puff on the e-cigarette to simulate the burn of a tobacco cigarette. The cartomizer is filled with an e-liquid that typically contains the chemical propylene glycol along with nicotine, flavoring and other additives. The device works much like a miniature version of the smoke machines that operate behind rock bands.

When you "vape" -- that's the term for puffing on an e-cig -- a heating element boils the e-liquid until it produces a vapor. A device creates the same amount of vapor no matter how hard you puff until the battery or e-liquid runs down.

How much do they cost?

Starter kits usually run between $30 and $100. The estimated cost of replacement cartridges is about $600, compared with the more than $1,000 a year it costs to feed a pack-a-day tobacco cigarette habit, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. Discount coupons and promotional codes are available online.

Are e-cigarettes regulated?

Until Thursday, e-cigarettes were uncontrolled by the government despite a 2011 federal court case that gave the FDA the authority to regulate e-smokes under existing tobacco laws rather than as a medication or medical device, presumably because they deliver nicotine, which is derived from tobacco. The agency had hinted it would begin regulating them this year, but its only action against the devices to date was a letter issued in 2010 to electronic cigarette distributors warning them to cease making various unsubstantiated marketing claims.

This has especially worried experts like Erika Seward, the assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association.

"With e-cigarettes, we see a new product within the same industry -- tobacco -- using the same old tactics to glamorize their products," she said. "They use candy and fruit flavors to hook kids, they make implied health claims to encourage smokers to switch to their product instead of quitting all together, and they sponsor research to use that as a front for their claims."

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor, said public health officials have been concerned that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to further tobacco use.

"Data show use of e-cigarettes by high school and junior high school students is on the rise," Besser said. "Once addicted to nicotine, will users move on to using tobacco with all the inherent health risks?”

"Countering the view are those who view e-cigarettes as an important step towards risk reduction for current cigarette smokers," he added. "They do not deliver the carcinogens that are the cause of so many health problems."

What are the health risks of vaping?

The jury is out. The phenomenon of vaping is so new that science has barely had a chance to catch up on questions of safety, but some initial small studies have begun to highlight the pros and cons.

The most widely publicized study into the safety of e-cigarettes was done when researchers analyzed two leading brands and concluded the devices did contain trace elements of hazardous compounds, including a chemical which is the main ingredient found in antifreeze.

But Kiklas, whose brand of e-cigarettes were not included in the study, pointed out that the FDA report found nine contaminates versus the 11,000 contained in a tobacco cigarette and noted that the level of toxicity was shown to be far lower than those of tobacco cigarettes.

However, Seward said because e-cigarettes remain unregulated, it's impossible to draw conclusions about all the brands based on an analysis of two.

"To say they are all safe because a few have been shown to contain fewer toxins is troubling," she said. "We also don't know how harmful trace levels can be."

Thomas Glynn, the director of science and trends at the American Cancer Society, said there were always risks when one inhaled anything other than fresh, clean air, but he said there was a great likelihood that e-cigarettes would prove considerably less harmful than traditional smokes, at least in the short term.

"As for long-term effects, we don't know what happens when you breathe the vapor into the lungs regularly," Glynn said. "No one knows the answer to that."

Do e-cigarettes help tobacco smokers quit?

Because they preserve the hand-to-mouth ritual of smoking, Kiklas said e-cigarettes might help transform a smoker's harmful tobacco habits to a potentially less harmful e-smoking habit. As of yet, though, little evidence exists to support this theory.

In a first of its kind study published last fall in the medical journal Lancet, researchers compared e-cigarettes to nicotine patches and other smoking cessation methods and found them statistically comparable in helping smokers quit over a six-month period. For this reason, Glynn said he viewed the devices as promising though probably no magic bullet.

For now, e-cigarette marketers can't tout their devices as a way to kick the habit without first submitting their products to the FDA as medical devices and proving that they work to help users quit. No company has done this.

Seward said many of her worries center on e-cigarettes being a gateway to smoking, given that many popular brands come in flavors and colors that seem designed to appeal to a younger generation of smokers.

"We're concerned about the potential for kids to start a lifetime of nicotine use by starting with e-cigarettes," she said.

Though the National Association of Attorneys General on Thursday called on the FDA to immediately regulate the sale and advertising of electronic cigarettes, there were no federal age restrictions to prevent kids from obtaining e-cigarettes.

Most e-cigarette companies voluntarily do not sell to minors yet vaping among young people is on the rise. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found nearly 1.8 million young people had tried e-cigarettes and the number of U.S. middle and high school students e-smokers doubled between 2011 and 2012.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Scientists Rush to Finish Mind-Controlled Robotic Suit Before World Cup

Miguel Nicolelis(DURHAM, N.C.) -- A Brazilian neuroscientist is racing to finish a mind-controlled exoskeleton that is scheduled to debut in less than 50 days at the opening ceremonies for the World Cup.

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurosciences at Duke University, told ABC News that he is counting down “the hours” before the exoskeleton -- made to help paraplegic patients walk again -- is scheduled to debut on the field during the World Cup opening ceremonies in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

"Running out of time is out of the question. When you make a promise to 250 million people, you can’t run out of time,” said Nicolelis. “We left last night at 3:30 a.m. and back at 9:30 a.m. Everybody knows that we will never have anything like [this] again.”

Nicolelis is running the Walk Again Project along with an international group of at least 100 scientists and researchers to develop the device. The machine is “worn” by the user and has small motors inside to help a paralyzed person walk or even kick a ball.

The user wears a cap fitted with electrodes that read the users' brain waves and allow them to control the device through these sensors. The machine “reads these” electrodes so that it starts walking. Running, so far, is out of the question.

“We’re on track so -- the most important part is the human part. They’re all trained and all ready to go,” said Nicolelis of the volunteers who are trained to operate the machine.

During the opening ceremonies, one volunteer will wear the robotic suit, walk onto the field and a kick a ball.

Although mind-controlled exoskeletons have been used before, Nicolelis said this is the most involved machine and says while the machine’s movements are limited they are not simply pre-programmed into the device. Nicolelis said the users have had to practice controlling the device in a simulator to mimic the noise and pressure of walking onto the field during the world cup.

“We created distractions. Even in the middle of that huge sound and [with] people screaming and people rooting we were able to do it,” said Nicolelis. “You can get focused to your task if you train a little bit.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Parents Stunned by ‘Big and Beautiful’ 14-Pound Newborn

WCVB-TV(BOSTON) -- A Massachusetts couple is recovering after welcoming an unexpectedly large bundle of joy.

Carisa Ruscak was born weighing in at 14.5 pounds Wednesday, according to ABC News affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston.

Carisa’s parents, Caroline and Bryan Ruscak, had expected a big baby, but maybe not one quite so large. The couple’s first daughter, Claudia, was born at 10.5 pounds.

“I heard the weight and I was like, ‘Oh, my God,’” Caroline Ruscak said. “It validated me because I was in a lot of pain when I was pregnant, so to hear the size, it made sense.”

Carisa was delivered via caesarian section Wednesday and is the biggest infant to be delivered at Massachusetts General Hospital in 12 years, according to WCVB.

“When she came out at 14 and a half pounds, I couldn’t believe it,” dad Bryyn Ruscak said. “I took a picture of the scale just to document it because I couldn’t believe how big she was. And long, too: 22 inches is long. That’s what we like, long and big. That’s what I am.”

About one in 1,000 babies could weigh 11 pounds, and in every 100,000  could weigh 14 pounds,  says Dr. Robert Barbieri, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. A 14-pound baby, he said in an earlier interview,  is extremely rare, and usually a doctor will induce labor if a baby appears oversize.

Neither Caroline Ruscak nor Carisa has diabetes, which can also lead to larger newborns.

“Big and beautiful: Claudia and Carisa. I’ll be in trouble in a few years, but that’s OK,” Bryan Rusack said. “I feel very lucky.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Man Aims to Change Cancer Experience for Young Adults

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It took Matthew Zachary seven years after his diagnosis to meet another 20-something with cancer even though more than 70,000 young adults are diagnosed with cancer every year.

He vowed to make sure no one else felt alone like he did.

“I had no life. I had no job. All my friends left to live their lives,” he said of the year following his diagnosis and treatment as he waited around his parents’ house to die. “I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror.”

Zachary, 38, was diagnosed with cancer as a senior in college at Binghamton University in upstate New York. He was 21 and eventually paired up with an 80-year-old social worker to help him through the ordeal.

It started with headaches, but by the fall Zachary, a music major, wasn’t able to play the piano with his left hand. His fingers were no longer able to nimbly do what he wanted them to do. He went to his campus health center and was diagnosed with everything from carpel tunnel to meningitis.

Over Thanksgiving break, he saw his family doctor at home in Staten Island. The doctor was worried, but Zachary asked if he could finish the final two weeks of the semester before undergoing a battery of tests. Then, he went back upstate.

“In two weeks, everything collapsed completely,” he said. His headaches became crippling, and he began to faint and had a small seizure. His speech became slurred and his vision was suddenly blurry.

Once Zachary was back home, the doctors found it: a golf ball-sized tumor at the back of his brain just above where it connected to his spinal column. “The joke was it was all in my head because it was,” he said.

They thought the tumor was benign, but after an eight-hour surgery to remove it, doctors learned it was cancer.

He moved back to his parents’ house and underwent radiation therapy, causing him to lose 110 pounds and throw up 15 times a day, he said. Somehow, he still graduated after calling his college to explain that he might die, but he wanted to finish school.

But he called the film school he’d been planning on attending in the fall to pursue a graduate degree and asked for his deposit back.

“It was torture,” he said. “My friends and family were awesome, but I felt entirely alone.”

Zachary said his doctor wouldn’t even make eye contact with him. Instead, he just spoke to Zachary’s parents -- a problem many young adult cancer patients face. One day, he interrupted to ask “When am I going to die?”

They gave him a 50 percent chance of surviving five years, though he said he now knows there wasn’t much science behind the estimate.

Still, how was he to know that he would still be alive 17 years later?

“It was a strange way to be at 21,” he said, as he weighed whether to undergo chemotherapy to give himself an extra 5 percent chance of surviving five years.

Eventually, he started to live his life, got back to work, got married and had children, but along the way he faced questions no one he knew could answer. When could he tell new friends and colleagues that he was a cancer survivor? Should he tell them at all or try to move on? How long would this be part of his life?

Ten years later, he started a website for young adults with cancer to find books, blogs and online forums so they could connect. He crunched the numbers and figured there were about 3 million people who were battling or had battled cancer as young adults. Where were they when he needed them?

“It’s one thing to say you’re not alone,” he said. “Here’s proof.”

The website, Stupid Cancer, grew to include a podcast with 3.4 million listeners, local chapters, and a national conference -- called "OMG! Cancer Summit for Young Adults" -- that is now in its seventh year.

“Every year, I go and it’s humbling to see people that have never seen or met another cancer survivor their own age,” said Scott Slater, 43, a two-time cancer survivor who has attended every conference.

One of the best parts for many attendees is the chance to just talk about sports or TV without first being asked how they’re feeling.

“People would say that to me three years after I was done,” Slater said, adding that it didn’t upset him, but there’s something nice about being able to put it aside. “You get to be normal for a weekend, which is something you don’t get to do a lot at home.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Does Pot Smoking Ruin Your Heart?

iStock/Thinkstock(TOULOUSE, France) -- Possible new health dangers associated with marijuana smoking have come to light following a small French study that reveals young and middle-aged users may be putting themselves at increased risk for heart and artery disease.

Researchers at University Hospital of Toulouse reviewed close to two thousand patients with health problems who abused marijuana over a five-year span and found 35 adults whose average age was 34 with cardiovascular complications.

Among them, 20 people had heart attacks, nine of which were fatal. There were also 10 instances of disease of the arteries in limbs, which were linked to brain arteries.

During the time the individuals smoked pot, according to the researchers, cases of heart disease rose three times over five years, adding that about half of the smokers had already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Lead study author Emilie Jouanjus says that further research is warranted, given the loosening of restrictions against marijuana use in some countries, including the U.S.

Advocates for the legalization of pot contend the study showed no cause-and-effect relationship nor did it compare marijuana users to those who don't use the drug, essentially making the findings meaningless.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Apr242014

Kids Act Out More When They Bite Their Food Instead of Chew It

Photodisc/Thinkstock(ITHACA, N.Y.) -- Parents who want their kids to cut out the fooling around during meals should cut up their food – no joke.

Cornell University researchers believe it all has to do with their teeth, that is, children seem to act up more when they eat foods that involve biting down with their front teeth, such as chicken drumsticks, apples or corn on the cob.

In an experiment, 12 kids ages six-to-10 were divided into two groups at a 4-H summer camp with half getting drumsticks and the other half having their chicken cut up. In addition, all the youngsters were also told to remain inside a circle with a nine-foot radius. The next day, the groups had their meals reversed with the same instructions about the circle.

According to Cornell researcher Brian Wansink, when the kids were served chicken drumsticks, “they were twice as likely to disobey adults and twice as aggressive toward other kids.” Not only that but the drumstick eaters also left the circle more often than kids who ate chicken in pieces.

Again, Wansink says kids seem to act out more when they have to bite into their food rather than simply chew it.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Dad Records Messages for Kids to Be Played After He Dies

Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A New York dad who thought he had only two months to live recorded heartfelt video messages to be sent to his kids long after he’s gone.

Entrepreneur Jon Loew, who lives with his family on Long Island, suffered a violent reaction to an antibiotic in 2010, baffling doctors and causing permanent damage to his central nervous system.

“I was told, 'We can’t explain why this is happening, but you’re deteriorating very quickly,'” Loew told ABCNews.com. “It affected every part of my body and brain.”

The 43-year-old’s first thought was of what would happen to his son and daughter if he died.

“I was sitting there saying, 'I’m going to be dead in two months and my kids are 8 and 6,'” Loew said. “'Who’s going to guide them? What questions will they have when they’re older?'”

So Loew, an attorney, began recording videos he wanted his kids to see in the future -- answering questions he thought they might one day have about life, work, marriage and parenting.

“Of course, I was concerned about missing my daughter’s wedding and my kids’ high school graduations,” he said. “But most of my concern was about what they would miss -- who would be there when they’re down in the dumps.”

Luckily, Loew survived. Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic finally linked his symptoms to the antibiotic and prescribed medication and physical therapy to revitalize him, he said.

But Loew continued to make the videos for his wife and two children, Sammy and Coby, and launched KeepTree, which allows other people to make videos they want to send to someone later in life.

The company has patents pending for technology that allows users' videos to be sent automatically after they die or after a natural disaster.

“It started as a sad idea, but people have come up with the craziest uses for it,” said Loew, who has filmed more than 100 videos for his family.

He cited users who want to get the last word in with an enemy after they’re dead or employees who record themselves doing something their boss wouldn’t approve at work, with plans not to reveal the act until they've quit.

Videos can be sent to a recipient’s email at any time -- whether it’s 10 days in the future or 10 years. Until then, KeepTree stores them so they remain private.

His kids have gotten in on the fun, too.

“My son recorded a video saying, ‘Hello me, it’s me. Remember, always hate Sammy,’” Loew said. “He’s reminding himself to hate his sister in 30 years.”

Loew called his collection of videos a “family archive.”

“I’m fascinated by communication through generations,” he said. “When you look at your photo albums, do you really know what your great-grandparents were like? Imagine if you could hear their voices. I’m guessing that there is someone who looked like you and acted like you 100 years ago. Wouldn’t it be cool to see that?”

KeepTree is free for users who want to send videos within a year. Users who want KeepTree to store their clips for longer than a year pay $2 a month. The company has about 25,000 users.



Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Apr232014

Michigan Man Gets ‘Bionic Eye’

iStock/Thinkstock(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) -- Roger Pontz, from Michigan, is the fourth person to be fitted with a kind of bionic eye. He suffers from a degenerative disease.

Doctors spent four and a half hours implanting electrodes on his eye. Electrical impulses are transmitted from the retina to the optic nerve and then the brain, allowing him to see shadows and light.

There’s no sharp focus yet but doctors are calling this a game changer.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio