Post-Holiday Flu Increase Expected

Photo Courtesy - Med Immune(ATLANTA) – Flu activity has continued to pick up in the United States, with a post-holiday increase expected until late January.

MedPage Today reports that influenza activity has settled into a more typical pattern after last year’s H1N1 outbreak, when the flu season peaked in the fall instead of the winter.

"Flu is now with us," Dr. Dan Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's influenza division, told MedPage. "All the indexes that we follow indicate that the season has started."

Seventy percent of the circulating viruses in the U.S. are influenza A strains, said Jernigan. A vast majority of those are H3N2 with very few 2009 H1N1 strains.

Jernigan said vaccinations are extremely important due to the severe outcomes of the H3N2 strain.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Money Main Cause of Stress in Americans

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON ) – Most Americans say that money is their primary source of stress, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association.

The APA found that 75 percent of Americans consider money their biggest stressor regardless of whether they had too much money, or too little.

Nikiya Spence, a licensed financial therapist and money coach, told Consumer Affairs that issues over money can have serious consequences on financial and personal behaviors.

"People inherit problems around money from their family and this can have to do with spending and how they grow to feel about money in general," Spence said. "These underlying feelings can cause problems when it comes to finances if you're not aware of them.”

Spence said that most problems with handling money, such as spending addictions and over and underspending, are subconscious and caused by dysfunctional emotions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Twenty Percent of ICD Patients Do Not Meet Criteria for Use

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) – A new study suggests that around 20 percent of patients with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator do not meet certain guidelines for use of the device.

The ICD, a small electrical impulse generator, is most effective when implanted in patients with advanced systolic heart failure and are therefore at a high risk of cardiac death. The device is not recommended for use in primary prevention or in patients with severe heart failure symptoms and those who have had a recent diagnosis of heart failure.

The study, however, concluded that about 20 percent of more than 100,000 patients who were studied did not meet criteria for its use, and therefore had a significantly greater risk of in-hospital death.

The research, conducted by a group at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, examined cases from January 2006 to June 2009. Results showed that the 22.5 percent of patients who did not meet guidelines for the device had a .57 percent risk of in-hospital death compared to .18 percent in those who did meet criteria for use. The risk of post-procedure complications in those who did not meet criteria was also higher.

“Although the absolute difference in complications between the two groups is modest, these complications could have significant effects on patients’ quality of life and health care use, including length of hospital stay and costs,” wrote the authors.  “While a small risk of complications is acceptable when a procedure has been shown to improve outcomes, no risk is acceptable if a procedure has no demonstrated benefit.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Funeral Industry Changes as Americans Fatten Up

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- The fatter Americans get, the more businesses stretch to accommodate them -- even funeral homes, and casket and mortuary lift retailers.

"This is, unfortunately, a sign of the times, both experienced in life and after death," said Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "We're seeing the widening of seats, the widening of cup holders and, now, the widening of caskets."

About one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. About 17 percent of children and teens are obese, triple the rate from a generation ago.

Goliath Caskets, a Lynn, Ind.-based company, creates and sells caskets starting at 29 inches wide; they can run up to 52 inches wide and 8 feet long. Even the standard casket size has grown from 24 inches to about 27 inches. Goliath’s owner says the typical size changed about 15 years ago as people became increasingly overweight and obese.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gene Variant Could Predict Chance of Depression

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) -- Whether you roll with life's punches or become depressed in the face of stress may be determined, in part, by your genes, according to new research from the University of Michigan.

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry Monday, examined evidence from 54 studies that identified a particular gene variant, often referred to as the depression gene, as a possible determinant in who will and who will not suffer from clinical depression.

Although the predictive power of the gene variant was recently called into question by a smaller 2009 meta-analysis of 14 studies, researchers argue that the gene, 5-HTTLPR, does, indeed, affect a patient's chances of developing depression.

"That [2009] meta-analysis has been criticized for many reasons, mostly because they only include a few of the studies out there on this gene," says Dr. Srijan Sen, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and co-author on the study.

"We did a meta-analysis of all 54 studies that exist and, overall, we found that the results support [the existence of the gene] pretty strongly."

Although Sen says the gene has a relatively small impact on chances of developing depression, he hopes that the meta-analysis will help fuel the discovery of other genetic variants that influence depression.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Simple Blood Test to Detect Cancer?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and health giant Johnson & Johnson are combining efforts to streamline a simple blood test that may be able to identify cancer cells in the blood stream of patients already diagnosed with a specific type of cancer.

But many experts question what place, if any, this test will have in the world of cancer prevention, early detection or even treatment.

The partnership is part of a nearly $30 million endeavor funded by Johnson & Johnson company Veridex and the advocacy group Stand Up to Cancer to develop and refine technology that will be able to accurately and quickly detect and analyze circulating tumor cells, the company said Monday.

Circulating tumor cells are a rare form of free-flowing cancer cells detached from the smallest of tumors and can be found at extremely low levels in the blood stream.

"For every one tumor cell in the blood there's over a billion normal blood cells in the circulation. So that's the big challenge for developing a test that can pull out one in a billion cells," said Dr. Daniel Haber, director of the cancer center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

CTC technology, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004, is widely used in cancer centers to monitor a patient's response to treatment. But researchers now hope to expand its use to create a faster automated version that will analyze genetic components of a tumor and ultimately guide oncologists to personalize cancer treatments for patients.

"Harnessing the information contained in these cells in an in vitro clinical setting could enable tools to help select treatment and monitor how patients are responding," said Robert McCormack, head of technology innovation and strategy at Veridex.

Some cancer experts agreed the technology may be able to track some patients' cancer progression.

"It can help oncologists determine how well the drugs are working to kill cancer cells and it potentially could tell if the tumor returns at a later time," said Dr. Sarah Blair, associate professor of surgery in the division of surgical oncology at University of California San Diego.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama to Sign Food Safety Act into Law; Funding for Implementation Unclear with GOP in Control of House

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the head of the FDA held a conference call with reporters Monday on The Food Safety and Modernization Act, which the President will sign into law Tuesday. Secretary Sebelius said that the act would finally bring U.S. food safety laws up to date and help with efforts to keep the food supply safe as the number of foodborne diseases and outbreaks have increased in recent years. Sebelius said that in the 1990s there were about 100 foodborne outbreaks every year but that now there are an estimated 350 outbreaks every year in the United States.
Because of these increased outbreaks Sebelius said that it is estimated that one out of six Americans is struck with food-related illnesses every year and that as many as 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illness.
The key part of the act that was discussed on the call involved providing the FDA with mandatory recall authority and the ability of the FDA to access food producers' records. Asked on the call about the costs of implementing the act, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said the estimated costs over five years to implement the act was $1.4 billion. It is unclear if the new incoming Republican Congress will fully fund the act’s implementation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Social Jet Lag Phenomenon Causes Post-Holiday Sluggishness

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MIAMI) -- Even if you didn't travel long distances during the holiday season, you may return to work feeling as if you did. British researchers use the term "social jet lag" to describe the mental and physical weariness people experience after days or weeks of irregular sleeping, eating and stress that experts say is similar to the travel jet lag that affects people who travel across time zones.

"Whenever we have a few days off, we have a tendency to go to sleep past our regular bed times and wake up later," said Dr. Salim Dib, assistant professor of neurology and sleep disorders at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "That messes up our circadian rhythm and makes it difficult to get up at our normal time in the morning."

There are many reasons sleep experts say the holidays can wreak havoc on the body's built-in clock. In addition to getting less sleep because of social obligations, family visits or shopping, other seasonal factors play a role in disrupting sleep patterns.

"The holidays relate to doing things that are out of the ordinary, such as drinking more alcohol, eating fattier foods and more stress in general," said Dr. Nancy Collop, director of the Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta. "There may be more reflux and other things that are not good for sleep."

Fortunately, experts say, this phenomenon is temporary, but there are things people can do to facilitate a return to sleep normalcy. People suffering from social jet lag should focus on waking up at their normal time in the morning, even if it takes longer than usual to fall asleep and people get less sleep.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Salvia Studies Hold Promise for Addiction 

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(BALTIMORE) -- Scientists are taking a fresh look at salvia -- the controversial drug that can cause an intense psychedelic experience -- as a potential treatment for an array of neurological disorders, including addiction. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University Medical School say it could open the door to a whole new class of drugs that have powerful analgesic properties.

This is the first controlled study in humans on the effects of salvinorin A, the active ingredient in the plant salvia divinorum, which is the most powerful hallucinogen in nature. The study showed the drug has no physically adverse effects on otherwise healthy people. Participants showed no changes in heart rate or blood pressure.

Lead researcher Matthew W. Johnson, a psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry, said the study was an attempt to "put some rigorous scientific information into current concerns over the growing recreational use" of salvia.

The study findings are published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Johnson said learning about salvia's effects on the brain could lead to medical advances in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, chronic pain and, though it seems counterintuitive, drug addiction.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration has included salvia in a list of "drugs and chemicals of concern," but to date there is no federal ban.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Researcher: Trans Fat Info on Labels Deceptive

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CLEVELAND) -- Nutrition labels can be confusing. Experts say their information is often difficult to interpret and that ingredient amounts are meaningless if not put in the proper context. According to one researcher, nutrition labels are not only confusing but deceptive, particularly when it comes to trans fats, the unsaturated fats often found in junk food.

Eric Brandt, now a student at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, did some investigating while still an undergraduate and found that even when labels indicated no trans fats, foods often contained them. He published a paper in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, calling for changes in the way trans fats are listed on labels.

Experts agree that trans fats are a health hazard, but believe there might be better ways to indicate their presence, and that changing regulations could have adverse effects on consumers.

"I looked more closely at the list of ingredients and found that a lot of foods that say they have no trans fats actually contain partially hydrogenated oils, which do have trans fat in them," said Brandt.

He said the discrepancy occurs because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to list trans fats if they are present in amounts less than .5 grams. Omitting that information, however, could pose a danger to consumers.

"Research has consistently shown that if you add up small amounts less than .5 grams over time, it can become a significant amount and can be harmful to health," said Brandt.

Current dietary guidelines recommend consuming no more than 1.11 grams of trans fats per day. Trans fats also tend to raise levels of "bad" cholesterol and lower the levels of "good" cholesterol.

Because of the FDA's current requirements, if a food contains .49 grams of trans fat, the manufacturer is permitted to list the amount of trans fat as zero.

To more accurately reflect the amount of trans fat in food, Brandt believes it should be listed in increments of one-tenth of a gram. If, for example, there are .35 grams of trans fat in a food, the label should read .4 grams. If there are .34 grams of trans fat, the label should read .3 grams.

The FDA has required trans fat information on food labels since 2006. A spokesperson for the agency said since it hasn't yet seen Brandt's paper, it is too early to comment on it. However, the spokesperson also said it's difficult to confirm amounts less than .5 grams, which is why that became the rule.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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