Shingles Hard to Bear, Vaccine Hard to Get

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- With a million cases every year, about one in three people in the United States will get shingles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while the majority of cases occur in people older than 60, anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk because the triggering virus, "herpes zoster," is the same.

"The chickenpox virus hibernates in the nerve cells of the spinal cord," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "And when it comes out of hibernation, it travels along those nerves to the surface of the body, causing a stripe of blisters that looks like shingles on a roof."

The rash usually forms in a single stripe curling around the left or the right side of the body. But it can occur on the face where, in severe cases, can leave disfiguring scars and even threaten vision.

Underneath the skin, the virus can damage and even destroy the nerve endings, causing postherpetic neuralgia, also known as post-shingles pain.

Even the slightest irritation -- like a breeze through a T-shirt -- can trigger pain so severe that some people with post-shingles pain even consider suicide, Schaffner said.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Zostavax for people older than 60 who've had chickenpox in 2006. The single shot decreases the risk of shingles by 55 percent, according to a Jan. 12 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But only 10 percent of the 52 million people in the United States older than 60 have had the vaccine.

"Many people don't know that there is such a thing as a shingles vaccine and, frankly, not every doctor knows about it yet either," Schaffner said. "And even the doctors that do know about it may not be promoting it because it's very difficult for people on Medicare to get the vaccine."

Medicare covers the shot, which now runs about $160, for those older than 65 under its Plan D. But the reimbursement process is complicated. Unlike the flu shot -- which doctors can stock, administer and charge for -- doctors have to prescribe Zostavax and send patients to the pharmacy to get it.

Some pharmacies administer the shot. But ones that don't can leave patients "brown bagging" the temperature-sensitive vaccine back to the doctor's office.

There's also a problem on the manufacturing end. Merck -- the maker of Zostavax -- has reported a shortage of the essential ingredient: live but weakened chickenpox virus. But Merck has asked the FDA to broaden the recommendations to include people aged 50 to 59.

Shingles is rare in people under 50, but not unheard of. It tends to only affect younger people with weakened immune system, for whom live vaccines aren't recommended because of the potential to wake the dormant virus, according to the FDA.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is Doctor Empathy the Best Rx?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The ability to empathize with a patient not only makes doctors more likable but improves the quality of care they provide, according to a report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. And as with knowing what test to run or what treatment to prescribe, empathy is a skill doctors have to learn, some doctors say.

"Currently, there is insufficient emphasis and time apportioned to teaching the empathic response in medical school, postgraduate training and continuing medical education," wrote Dr. Robert Buckman of the University of Toronto and his colleagues.

Medical training has historically emphasized understanding diseases rather than patients. But some medical schools in the United States are changing their game to produce more empathetic doctors.

"I think all of us as doctors should understand that our main role is to not just help people, but to really understand them and to have every encounter with a patient be something they leave feeling better," said Dr. Steven Abramson, senior vice president and vice dean for education, faculty and academic affairs at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

"In the sufferer, let me see only the human being," said Abramson, quoting the prayer of Maimonides, a pledge similar to the Hippocratic oath.

"A patient is far less likely to adhere to a treatment plan if they don't have trust in their doctor," said Matthew Mercuri, a first-year medical student at Langone. "If they don't trust their doctor, they won't trust the treatment."

But learning to balance empathy with doing what needs to be done is harder than it looks.

NYU's Abramson said, "It's very nice to have a doctor that you love and who puts an arm around you, but not if that doctor makes bad medical decisions.

"Compassion is important but compassion without competence is not a virtue."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Lack of Sleep Linked to Childhood Obesity

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- As if parents need another reason to enforce their little one's bed times: a new study has found a link between lack of sleep and unhealthy bodyweight.

The report, published in the latest issue of Pediatrics, said young children who skimp on sleep both during the week and on the weekends have a four-fold risk of obesity compared with their more well-rested peers.

Using a special wrist device, University of Chicago investigators tracked the sleep patterns of 308 children from Louisville, Kentucky, between the ages of four and 10 for a week.  Before the study, the young subjects were identified as normal, overweight, or obese based on their body mass index (BMI) scores, a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

Total sleep time for obese children was more variable on weekends than on school days and they tended to get less catch-up sleep compared with normal and overweight youngsters.  Those who got the least amount of sleep overall had a 4.2 times higher risk of tipping the scales in the obese range than other children.  When the researchers drew blood samples from a third of the children at random, the heaviest children also had the unhealthiest blood profiles.

Even children who slumbered little during the week but managed to make up for a small portion of missed sleep on the weekends tripled their risk of obesity.  This indicates that the children at the heaviest end of the weight range don't seem to be getting as much "catch-up sleep" on the weekends as children with lower BMIs.

"If a child has a tendency to be obese but gets adequate sleep he is more likely to be protected than if he is not sleeping as much as he needs," commented Dr. David Gozal, one of the study's lead researchers and the chair of the pediatrics department at the University of Chicago in Illinois.  "Catch-up sleep is better than nothing and can help but we don't think it can offer complete protection."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: Teen Driving Accidents Kill Many Not in Car

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PHILADELPHIA) -- Nearly a third of those killed in car crashes involving teen drivers are not even in the teen’s car -- they are bicyclists, pedestrians or occupants of other vehicles, according to a new national report.

The inaugural report, conducted by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Companies, found that in 2008, 681,000 people were involved in accidents where a teen driver was behind the wheel, causing injuries to more than 40,000.  Out of those who died from these accidents, nearly 30 percent were not in cars driven by teens.

The report also found that more teens die on the road than from murder, suicide and cancer combined.  Nearly a quarter -- 24 percent -- of total teen deaths are the result of car crashes.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Love Hurts: Hickey Paralyzes Woman in New Zealand

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(AUCKLAND, New Zealand) -- Love hurts.  An overly enthusiastic hickey from a New Zealand woman's partner landed her in the hospital with a minor stroke.

The 44-year-old Maori woman was brought to Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand with a paralyzed left arm, doctors reported in a case study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal in November.  Doctors were puzzled by her symptoms until they realized that there had been a clot in an artery on the right side of her neck beneath where she still showed the bruising of a hickey.

"Because it was a love bite, there would be a lot of suction.  Because of the physical trauma, it had made a bit of bruising inside the vessel" causing a clot, Dr. Teddy Wu, who treated the patient, told the New Zealand press.  The clot apparently resulted in a stroke.

This appears to be the only documented case of a hickey-related stroke, but in general, getting hurt in the heat of passion is not that uncommon, doctors say.

A 2010 UK poll found that a third of the British reported having had a sex-related injury, most often involving non-traditional settings for sex, such as on stairs, over kitchen tables, or in closets.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Federal Government Attempts to Jumpstart Drug Development

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) – In an effort to try to develop more pharmaceutical drugs, the federal government has decided to put $1 billion into a new drug research laboratory. The National Institutes of Health will be launching the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, at a time when the drug industry is putting less and less money into research and development.

According to a report in The New York Times, the idea was drummed up as an effort to get drug manufacturers, who have produced a decreasing amount of new drugs, back into stronger competition with one another.

The report cites Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, as saying that the efforts of the government are not to be in direct competition with the private sector, but to make their jobs easier. By advancing the early parts of research on a drug or disease, the government hopes for private companies to take what research has already been done, expand upon it, and turn it into an innovative solution for patients.

Collins also says that despite the country’s dire financial situation, there is still a need to try and develop new drugs.

The proposal for the new center was put to Congress in a letter on Jan. 14, and preliminary plans have already been made for an opening date some time in October.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: TV & Computer Time Can Lead to Poor Heart Health

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- If your job requires you to be in front of a computer screen all day, new research may give even more reason for you to get to the gym. A study published in the online journal Heart Asia shows that those who spend more time in front of computer and television screens take longer to recover after exercise that strains the cardiovascular system.

The study included more than 2,000 people from the United States who are all in their 30's. Subjects would undergo eight-minute treadmill tests, after which the researchers would examine how long it took for their heart rate to return to a normal level of activity.

For participants who spent more time in front of a screen on a daily basis, or for participants who did little-to-no exercise, their hearts took longer to recover. Similar results were found when researchers used several different variables.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise time per day for adults, and at least 60 minutes per day for adults who are trying to lose weight or are on a diet.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Times Have Changed, Students Say In Response To Critical Study

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A new study claims that students are not picking up critical thinking, reasoning, or writing skills by the end of their sophomore year.

Two professors, one from New York University and another from the University of Virginia, found in a sample of 2,300 students they followed from 2005-2009, that 45 percent of students showed no significant gains in those three areas after two years of college. After four years, that number still hovers at 36 percent.

Additionally, the researchers found that students spent 51 percent of their time each week socializing or partaking in extracurricular activities. Only 7 percent of time each week was dedicated to studying.

Students have responded, saying that the college experience should not be based solely around what is absorbed in a lecture hall or read a textbook.

"I think it's finding that good balance between work and play.  These are the life lessons that you take outside of the classroom and into the real world that benefit you later on. One day you're going to be in the workforce and have to balance work and a social life and this is just the first case of that," Katie Koeheler, a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, told ABC News.

The study used results from the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized exam, that does not take into account certain skills learned in disciplines like math, art, foreign language, or music.

Writing is included on the exam, but what about old fashioned interpersonal communication?

"You learn so much more about yourself, about people and just interacting in the real world by just meeting people, talking to people, than just sitting in your dorm room studying all the time,” said Eric Gembarowski, a junior at Arizona State University.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Last Names Can Affect Buying Habits

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Always hated being picked last in the alphabetical name game? A new study finds organization by last names during childhood may dictate your buying habits during adulthood.

"The Last Name Effect," published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that people with last names towards the end of the alphabet are quicker to buy or be at the front of the line than those with names at the beginning of the alphabet.

Researchers believe the habits are linked to childhood and constant alphabetizing during school. Children with late-letter last names tended to wait longer for things, and therefore compensate later in life, according to the study.

The researchers noted that children who have last names starting with the letters R-Z often found themselves at the back of the line, or in the last row of the classroom. As adults, these people would be more likely to "act on opportunities to make up for the inequality," they said.

But is it inequality, or just impatience? Researchers carried out four experiments to test their hypothesis and found a person named Anderson would wait 25 percent more time than a person named Zimmer to buy a hot-ticket item.

"Those with last names early in the alphabet will be so accustomed to being first that individual opportunities to make a purchase won't matter very much; they'll buy late," the researchers said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FDA Approves New Drug for Major Depression

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SILVER SPRING, Md.) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new drug called Viibryd Friday to treat major depressive disorder (also called major depression) in adults. 

Viibryd, which will be available in 10, 20 and 40 milligram tablets, will treat symptoms including depressed mood, loss of interest in usual activities, radical change in weight or appetite and insomnia or restlessness.

"Major depressive disorder is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally," said Dr. Thomas Laughren, director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.  Dr. Laughren stressed the importance of providing a variety of treatment options for depression patience because medications affect everyone differently.

The FDA warns that while the drug showed no increased risks in adults older than 24, children and young adults may experience increased risk of suicidal thinking. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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